Researching the politics of development



The politics of gender equity in the Global South

8 March 2019
Professor of Politics and expert on gender and institutions, Georgina Waylen, is a contributor to the forthcoming ESID book, Negotiating Gender Equity in the Global South: The Politics of Domestic Violence Policy.

This International Women’s Day, she gives her take on the important contribution the book makes towards understanding when and how governments adopt policies to combat violence against women.
Gender-based violence is a huge global issue, and violence against women is now widely recognised as one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world, experienced by an estimated one-third of the world’s women at some time in their lives. Getting governments to adopt policies to combat violence against women is therefore a pressing priority, not just for International Women’s Day, but all year round. But we still don’t fully understand when and how this can happen. In their forthcoming book, Nazneen, Hickey and Sifaki and their contributors make an important contribution to this task, by analysing under what conditions governments in the Global South introduce policies to combat domestic violence.
A core strength of Nazneen and Hickey’s approach is its attention to the internal dynamics of individual polities. They foreground two areas that we need to consider in more detail: first, the implications for gender equality policies of the different forms of state and political settlement (something few gender scholars have done in this way to date). And, second, in keeping with much recent feminist institutionalist research, they show how opening the ‘black box’ of the politics of negotiating gender equity allows us to better explore the formal and informal rules, norms and networks that impact outside and inside the state – whether in the executive, bureaucracy or legislature – uncovering the links between them. It is not just the formal political processes, but the informal networks and negotiations in which gender actors participate when trying to get domestic violence policies that play an important role in achieving policy change. These coalitions and policy networks are built with, and within, the ruling coalition.

By focusing on the internal dynamics of individual polities and the different state forms in six case study countries, the book gives us a better understanding of exactly how policy change can take place in different political settlements and regime types. Nazneen and Hickey show how the type of political settlement can explain the different speeds at which domestic violence policy is adopted in the six countries. The key elements of this analysis are found in the final chapter, where Nazneen and Hickey flesh out the importance of political context through a comparative analysis of their six cases. They divide them into different types of political settlement: either competitive or dominant, depending on the level of challenge that ruling elites face from those excluded from the ruling coalition; and they are either personalised or institutionalised, depending on the extent to which institutions operate on personalised logics.
These significant new findings complement important recent systematic comparative research, like Htun and Weldon’s, that looks more generally at when states will adopt gender rights policies. For example, like Htun and Weldon, Nazneen and Hickey find that the active role of women’s movements and favourable international factors, together with South-South and regional links, do play a significant role.  They also find that the role of women in parliament, democracy and development is also perhaps less important than might have been expected. But, as Htun and Weldon stress, we have to recognise that domestic violence policy is just one type of gender equality policy among many. So it is not possible to generalise across them. They differ, for example, in the controversy they generate, as well as the different actors involved. The policy coalitions both for and against a doctrinal issue like reproductive rights are very different to those around domestic violence or equal pay.
As part of the efforts to combat gender-based violence, Nazneen and Hickey have shown that we need to extend the analysis of how informal, as well as formal, processes and negotiations in different forms of political settlement affect the adoption of domestic violence policies in countries beyond these six, as well as into other types of gender rights policies.
Download a copy of the book for free here.