Skip to main content

When Do Governments Promote Women's Rights? A Framework for the Comparative Analysis of Sex Equality Policy

  • Mala Htun (a1) and S. Laurel Weldon (a2)

This essay proposes a framework to analyze cross-national variation in women's legal rights. To explore the distinct logics of policy change, we disaggregate sex equality policies on two dimensions: 1) whether they improve the status of women as a group or alleviate gender-based class inequalities, and 2) whether or not they challenge the doctrine of organized religion and the codified tradition of major cultural groups. We show that policies promoting gender equality seek fundamental social change and therefore challenge historical patterns of state-society interaction concerning relations between the state and the market; the respective authority of the state, religion, and cultural groups; and the contours of citizenship. Different issues, however, challenge different aspects of these relations. What's more, the priorities, strategies, and effectiveness of advocates and opponents of change (including women's movements, left parties, international NGOs, and organized religion) are shaped by state capacity, policy legacies, international vulnerability, and the degree of democracy.

Hide All
Bashevkin, Sylvia. 1998. Women on the Defensive. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Beckwith, Karen. 2000. Beyond Compare? Women's Movements in Comparative Perspective. European Journal of Political Research 37: 431–68.
Beckwith, Karen. 2005. A Common Language of Gender? Politics & Gender I (1): 128–37.
Blofield, Merike, and Haas, Liesl. 2005. Defining a Democracy: Reforming the Laws on Women's Rights in Chile, 1990–2002. Latin American Politics and Society 47 (3): 3568.
Brush, Lisa D. 2003. Gender and Governance. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Casimiro, Isabel, Kwesiga, Joy, Mungwa, Alice, and Tripp, Aili. 2009. Women in Movement: Transformations in African Political Landscapes. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Castles, Francis G. 1993. Families of Nations: Patterns of Public Policy in Western Democracies. Aldershot, UK: Dartmouth.
Charrad, Mounira. 2001. States and Women's Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Clark, Ann Marie. 2001. Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Coleman, Isobel. 2004. The Payoff from Women's Rights. Foreign Affairs 48: 3.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams. 1994. Mapping the Margins. In The Public Nature of Private Violence, ed. Fineman, M. and Mykitiuk, R.. New York: Routledge.
Dahlerup, Drude. 2006. Women, Quotas and Politics. NY: Routledge.
Dreze, Jean, and Sen, Amartya. 2002. India: Development and Participation. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Elman, R. Amy. 1996. Sexual Subordination and State Intervention: Comparing Sweden and the United States. Providence, Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Esping Andersen, Gøsta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Fraser, Nancy. 2007. Feminist Politics in the Age of Recognition: A Two-Dimensional Approach to Gender Justice. Studies in Social Justice 1 (1): 2335.
Friedman, Elisabeth, Clark, Ann Marie, and Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2005. Sovereignty, Democracy, and Global Civil Society: State-Society Relations at UN World Conferences. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Gelb, Joyce. 1989. Feminism and Politics: A Comparative Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gelb, Joyce, and Palley, Marian Lief. 1996. Women and Public Policies: Reassessing Gender Politics. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
Glendon, Mary Ann. 1989. The Transformation of Family Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hansen, Susan Blackall. 1993. Differences in Public Policies Toward Abortion: Electoral and Policy Context. In Understanding the New Politics of Abortion, ed. Goggin, Malcolm L., U.S.A.: Sage.
Hawkesworth, Mary. 2003. Congressional Enactments of Race-Gender: Toward a Theory of Raced-Gendered Institutions. American Political Science Review 97 (4): 529–50.
Hernes, Helga. 1987. Welfare State and Woman Power: Essays in State Formation, Oslo: Norwegian University Press.
Htun, Mala. 2003a. Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family Under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Htun, Mala. 2003b. Women and Democracy. In Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America, 2d ed., eds. Domínguez, Jorge I. and Shifter, Michael. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Htun, Mala. 2005. What It Means to Study Gender and the State. Politics & Gender 1 (1): 157–66.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Norris, Pippa. 2003. Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Keck, Margaret, and Sikkink, K.. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Kingdon, John. W. 1984. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Kittilson, Miki Caul. 2003. Political Parties and the Rhetoric and Realities of Democratization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Krook, Mona Lena. 2006. Reforming Representation: The Diffusion of Candidate Gender Quotas Worldwide. Politics & Gender 2 (3): 303–27.
Lovenduski, Joni, and Norris, Pippa, eds. 1993. Gender and Party Politics. London: Sage Publications.
Luker, Kristin. 1984. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lycklama à Nijeholt, Geertje, Vargas, Virginia, and Wieringa, Sakia, eds. 1998. Women's Movements and Public Policy in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean: The Triangle of Empowerment. New York: Garland Publishing.
Mansbridge, Jane. 1986. Why We Lost the ERA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
March, James, and Olsen, Johan. 1989. Rediscovering Institutions: The Organizational Basis of Politics. New York: Free Press.
Mares, Isabela. 2005. Social Protection around the World: External Insecurity, State Capacity, and Domestic Political Cleavages. Comparative Political Studies 38 (6): 623–51.
Marx, Anthony. 1998. Making Race and Nation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Matland, Richard E. 2006. Electoral Quotas: Frequency and Effectiveness, In Women, Quotas, and Politics, ed. Dahlerup, Drude. New York: Routledge.
Mazur, Amy G. 2003. Theorizing Feminist Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McAdam, Doug, McCarthy, John D., and Zald, Mayer N.. 1996. Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings. New York: Cambridge University Press.
McDonagh, Eileen. 2002. Political Citizenship and Democratization: The Gender Paradox. American Political Science Review 96 (3): 535–52.
Milner, Henry. 1989. Sweden: Social Democracy in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Minkenberg, Michael. 2002. Religion and Public Policy: Institutional, Cultural and Political Impact on the Shaping of Abortion Policies in the Industrialized Democracies. Comparative Political Studies 35 (2): 221–47.
Nussbaum, Martha. 2001. Women and Human Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Orloff, A.S. 1993. Gender and Social Rights of Citizenship: the comparative analysis of gender relations and welfare states. American Sociological Review 58 (June): 303–28.
Ostrom, Elinor. 1999. Institutional Rational Choice: An Assessment of the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework. In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Sabatier, Paul. Boulder CO: Westview.
Pierson, Paul. 1994. Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pierson, Paul. 2000. Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics. American Political Science Review 94 (2): 251–67.
Rheinstein, Max. 1972. Marriage Stability, Divorce, and the Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Richardson, Jeremy, Gustafsson, Gunnel, and Jordan, Grant. 1982. The Concept of Policy Style. In Policy Styles in Western Europe, ed. Richardson, Jeremy London: George Allen and Unwin.
Risse-Kappen, Thomas. 1994. Ideas Do Not Float Freely: Transnational Coalitions, Domestic Structures, and the End of the Cold War. International Organization 48 (2): 185214.
Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie. 2003. “Legislative Representation in Latin America.” Ph.D. diss., University of Arizona.
Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie, and Mishler, William. 2005. An Integrated Model of Women's Representation. Journal of Politics 67 (2): 407–28.
Scott, Joan Wallach. 2005. Parité!: Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development as Freedom. New York: Random House.
Shehabuddin, Elora. 2008. Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh. New York: Columbia University Press.
Skocpol, Theda. 1992. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Skocpol, Theda, Ganz, Marshall, and Munson, Ziad. 2000. A Nation of Organizers: The Institutional Origins of Civic Voluntarism in the United States. American Political Science Review 94 (3): 527–46.
Skrentny, John. 2002. The Minority Rights Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Stetson, Dorothy McBride, and Mazur, Amy G., eds. 1995. Comparative State Feminism. California: Sage Publications.
Swers, Michele L. 2002. The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tarrow, Sidney. 1998. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. 2d ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Thelen, Kathleen, and Steinmo, Sven. 1992. Introduction: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics. In Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis, ed. Thelen, Kathleen, Steinmo, Sven, and Longstreth, Frank. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tribe, Lawrence. 1992. The Clash of Absolutes. New York: W.W. Norton.
Weldon, S.L. 2002. Protest, Policy and the Problem of Violence against Women: A Cross-National Comparison. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Williams, Fiona. 1995. Race/Ethnicity, Gender and Class in Welfare States: A Framework for Comparative Analysis. Social Politics 2 (2): 127–59.
Young, Iris Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Young, Iris Marion. 2000. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford Series in Political Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Young, Iris Marion. 2005. Lived Body versus Gender: Reflections on Social Structure and Subjectivity. In On Female Body Experience: “Throwing Like a Girl” and other essays. New York: Oxford University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed