The civic origins of progressive policy change: combating violence against women in global perspective, 1975-2005

The civic origins of progressive policy change: combating violence against women in global perspective, 1975-2005

This article presents a global comparative analysis of policies on violence against women over four decades. The analysis comes from a dataset of policies in 70 countries between 1975 and 2005. The authors argue that what lies behind the differences in national policy – why some countries have more comprehensive policies than others, and why some governments are faster than others to adopt policies – is feminist mobilisation in civil society. They state that “autonomous feminist movements are the primary drivers of change because they articulate social group perspectives, disseminate new ideas and frames to the broader public, and demand institutional changes that recognise these meanings” (2012:552). Attention is drawn to the role that feminist movements played in getting violence against women recognised as a legitimate issue for action, even within other progressive social movements: “Women organising to advance women’s status have defined the very concept of VAW, raised awareness, and put the issue on national and global policy agendas” (2012:553).

A range of strategies used by feminist movements working on violence against women are discussed, including self-organisation, lobbying, legal action, protest and networking, as well as adopting “particular ways of living, sometimes called ‘everyday politics’”(2012:554). The article goes on to consider transnational feminist advocacy, which has led to the inclusion of violence against women in international human rights treaties. Both domestic and international advocacy, the authors argue, “magnify the effects of these treaties by highlighting the gap between ratification and compliance” (2012:558). Feminist activists raise awareness of the rights contained in the legislation, train others on these rights, and use the treaties to challenge discriminatory laws, structures and processes. An interesting point is made about the changing role of feminist movements as progress is made. The work of these movements has led to the institutionalising of many of the principles they were fighting for, and this means their work changes; movements are still impacting on policy, but as institutions addressing violence against women are strengthened, the feminist movements’ relative importance lessens (although they still play an important role in making sure the institutions and women’s policy machineries live up to expectations).

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