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When and Why do States Respond to Women’s Claims: Understanding Gender-Egalitarian Policy Change in Asia

2013 – 2015
Project Status: Completed

Funded by:
United Nations research Institute for Social Development


This 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?

The project aims to contribute insights into:

The complex processes through which advocates for women’s rights articulate their demands, and strategize with other actors both within and outside the states realm, and transnationally, to bring about policy change;

The ‘blind spots’ or issues on which there has been little advocacy, or where advocacy does not entre policy debates, despite their centrality to women’s lives and wellbeing; and

The proactive role of other actors, nationally and transnationally in triggering policy change

To capture diversity in both governance systems and socio-political contexts across Asia, the research will be conducted in three of the largest and most diverse countries of the region: China, India and Indonesia. Their size, different political systems (central/federal), with varying levels and degrees of democratization and decentralization/regional and local autonomy, and other forms of diversity (ethnic, religious, geographic, etc.) suggest that understanding what happens in these countries potentially has enormous significance for understanding gender equality policies and obstacles to change elsewhere.

The research seeks to examine the hypothesis that different factors at play in determining the effectiveness of claims-making processes across different issue areas. Some gender equality issues, such as abortion and family laws, are controversial because they challenge organised religion (e.g. 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. The two specific issues selected for in-depth comparative analysis across the three countries are violence against women and the rights of migrant women/domestic workers. There has been considerable mobilisation by women’s rights advocates around both of these issues in recent decades. Additionally. Attention will be paid throughout the research to two sets of issues where advocacy and claims-making has been either less visible (in the case of care work), or more difficult (family law and inheritance).

DEV Key Contact:

Nitya Rao


Selected Output:

Project Brief 05, United Nations research Institute for Social Development.

UNRISD Seminar, ‘Claiming their Rights: How Women’s Movements Mobilize for Policy Change’