Can the State Eliminate Violence against Women?

Mala Htun, University of New Mexico

Until quite recently, states took little action to combat violence against women. By contrast, most states endorsed many types of violence implicitly or explicitly, for example by upholding laws stating that sex was a marital obligation. In the 1990s and 2000s, pressure from feminist movements and allies succeeded in pushing scores of states to reform their laws to ban violent practices against women and girls. Often, however, laws look good on paper but violence and harassment remain common. This paper takes stock of legislative developments around the world and the variation in approaches toward intimate partner violence, marital rape, and sexual harassment, and analyzes the challenge of aligning social norms and behavior with progressive legislation. Even in states where laws look good, activists struggle to induce citizens to comply with the law, compel state authorities to enforce the law, and insure the adequate allocation of resources for social support services. In addition, many well-intentioned interventions fail to meet their objectives, or have unanticipated consequences, such as reducing women's willingness to report violence and harassment. Activists must strike a balance between fighting VAW with the law and public policy without overreaching in ways that curtail other essential freedoms or produce counterproductive effects.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 148. Reaggregating the State?: A Progress Report