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The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975–2005

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2012

University of New Mexico
Purdue University
Mala Htun is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of New Mexico, 1915 Roma Street NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131 (
S. Laurel Weldon is Professor of Political Science, Purdue University, 100 N. University Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907 (


Over the past four decades, violence against women (VAW) has come to be seen as a violation of human rights and an important concern for social policy. Yet government action remains uneven. Some countries have adopted comprehensive policies to combat VAW, whereas others have been slow to address the problem. Using an original dataset of social movements and VAW policies in 70 countries over four decades, we show that feminist mobilization in civil society—not intra-legislative political phenomena such as leftist parties or women in government or economic factors like national wealth—accounts for variation in policy development. In addition, we demonstrate that autonomous movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms. This study brings national and global civil society into large-n explanations of social policy, arguing that analysis of civil society in general—and of social movements in particular—is critical to understanding progressive social policy change.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012

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