International Women’s Rights: Progress Under Attack?

KFG Working Paper Series, No. 26, January 2019

Posted: 27 Jan 2019

Date Written: January 2019


This paper explores current contestations of women’s rights and the implications thereof for international legislation. While contestation over women’s rights is a far from new phenomenon, over the past two decades opposition to gender equality has become better organized at the transnational level, mobilizing a dispersed set of state and non-state actors, and is becoming more successful in halting the progress of women’s rights. I argue that the position of oppositional actors vis-à-vis women rights activism appears to be strengthened by two recent political developments: democratic backsliding and the closure of civic space. Some preliminary findings show how these interrelated developments lead to an erosion of women’s rights at the national level. Governments use low key tactics to dismantle institutional and implementation arrangements and sideline women’s organisations. Next, I explore the implications of these developments for gender equality norms at the national and international level. The active strategy of counter norming adopted by conservative and religious state and non-state actors, designed to circumvent and also undermine Western norms, is increasingly successful. In addition to this, the threatened position of domestic actors monitoring compliance of international treaties, makes the chances of backsliding on international commitments much higher.

Suggested Citation

Roggeband, Conny, International Women’s Rights: Progress Under Attack? (January 2019). KFG Working Paper Series, No. 26, January 2019, Available at SSRN:

Conny Roggeband (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB

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