American Political Science Review

Research Article

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


a1 University of New Mexico

a2 Purdue University


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.


c1 Mala Htun is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of New Mexico, 1915 Roma Street NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131 (

c2 S. Laurel Weldon is Professor of Political Science, Purdue University, 100 N. University Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907 (


The authors are equal contributors to all parts of this project. This article is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. 0550240. We thank the NSF (Political Science Program), Purdue University, and the New School for Social Research for support. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the NSF or these other institutions. The authors also thank Ann Clark, Erik Cleven, Paul Danyi, Cheryl O'Brien, Elisabeth Friedman, Aaron Hoffman, Mark Jones, Bob Kulzick, Amy Mazur, Scott Mainwaring, Leigh Raymond, Nicole Simonelli, TongFi Kim, Qi Xu, and participants in panels at the American Political Science Association, Purdue University's Political Theory and Public Policy Workshop, and seminars at Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, and Harvard University for comments and/or helpful suggestions. We are grateful for the assistance of a superb team of researchers from the New School and Purdue.