Gender in Agriculture Partnership

Transforming agriculture to empower women and deliver food, nutrition and income security

When and Why Do States Respond to Women’s Claims?

New UNRISD research seeks to understand how policy change to strengthen women’s rights occurs. When and why do states respond to women’s claims-making? What are the factors and conditions under which non-state actors can effectively trigger and influence policy change? What are the mechanisms necessary to ensure that issues get on the policy agenda?

It would be naive to limit the “politics of policy formulation” (Mazur, 2002: 13) to women’s movements and agencies, and to assume that they are always the main, or most important, agents of change. In fact, existing research suggests that in many instances there have been other key actors involved, including Left parties, the political elite, social movements and transnational forces. The national and transnational diffusion of ideas, norms and policy instruments can happen through different channels and modalities, including intergovernmental organizations (in particular those of the UN) and donor circuits (with their proclivity for “best practices”), as well as in more diffuse forms through “epistemic communities” and nongovernmental organizations, to name a few. This research will therefore also examine which other actors — grassroots organisations, elites, donors, First Ladies, political parties — nationally or transnationally, may be the catalysts of policy change. What might be the factors that explain the
variations in gender equality policies both within and across countries?

The project aims to contribute insights into:
1. the complex processes through which advocates for women’s rights articulate their demands, and strategize with other actors both within and outside the state realm, and transnationally, to bring about policy change;
2. the “blind spots”— issues on which there has been little advocacy, or where advocacy does not enter policy debates, despite their centrality to women’s lives and well-being; and
3. the proactive role of other actors, nationally and transnationally, in triggering policy change.

In order to address these questions, the project will focus on two distinct issue areas where previous research (Htun and Weldon 2010) has suggested different factors are at play in determining the effectiveness of claims-making processes. Countries may be leaders in some areas of gender equality, but laggards in others (Franceschet 2010). Some gender equality issues, such as abortion and family laws, are controversial because they challenge organized religion (for example, the Catholic Church) or codified cultural traditions backed by patriarchal institutions. In many countries, it has been easier to pass legislation establishing quotas for women-held seats in legislatures or local governments, than to challenge customary practices and laws governing marriage, divorce, property rights and inheritance (Tripp et al. 2009). Gender-equity concerns with a redistributive dimension, such as the rights of domestic workers or provision of public care services, invoke questions of socioeconomic inequality alongside gender inequality, and may be shaped by patterns of class politics (Htun and Weldon 2010).

Stakeholder group: