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Agenda Setting, the UN, and NGOs

Gender Violence and Reproductive Rights

In the mid-1990s, when the United Nations adopted positions affirming a woman's right to be free from bodily harm and to control her own reproductive health, it was both a coup for the international women's rights movement and an instructive moment for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to influence UN decision making.

Prior to the UN General Assembly's 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women and the 1994 decision by the UN's Conference on Population and Development to vault women's reproductive rights and health to the forefront of its global population growth management program, there was little consensus among governments as to what constituted violence against women and how much control a woman should have over reproduction. Jutta Joachim tells the story of how, in the years leading up to these decisions, women's organizations got savvy—framing the issues strategically, seizing political opportunities in the international environment, and taking advantage of mobilizing structures—and overcame the cultural opposition of many UN-member states to broadly define the two issues and ultimately cement women's rights as an international cause.

Joachim's deft examination of the documents, proceedings, and actions of the UN and women's advocacy NGOs—supplemented by interviews with key players from concerned parties, and her own participant-observation—reveals flaws in state-centered international relations theories as applied to UN policy, details the tactics and methods that NGOs can employ in order to push rights issues onto the UN agenda, and offers insights into the factors that affect NGO influence. In so doing, Agenda Setting, the UN, and NGOs departs from conventional international relations theory by drawing on social movement literature to illustrate how rights groups can motivate change at the international level.

About the Author

Jutta M. Joachim is an associate professor with the Institute of Political Science at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. She is the coeditor of International Organizations and Implementation: Enforcers, Managers, Authorities.

Endorsements

"Expertly drawing from organizational theory and the literature on social movements, Joachim demonstrates the interplay between struggles among NGOs to define the principles that will hopefully become part of new global agendas, the institutional context that favors some NGOs and their principles over others, and the critical role of creative entrepreneurs who not only seize new opportunities and forge strategic alliances, but also, at times, make their own opportunities. A highly readable book that is warmly recommended."—Michael Barnett, Stassen Chair of International Affairs, University of Minnesota

"This study significantly expands our understanding of a complex and vital topic—how various NGOs have successfully mobilized to pressure the UN to take [on] crucial initiatives affecting women's rights and women's welfare. Readers with interests in international institutions and women's studies will find this original and important assessment of particular value."—Ann Elizabeth Mayer, associate professor of legal studies, The Wharton School

"Combining fluid historical detail with thoughtful theorizing, Jutta Joachim illuminates the conditions under which NGOs can shape the global agenda, frame issues successfully, and stimulate state action. Read this book for its highly informative analysis of the international women's movement—and for the larger lessons it offers about NGO effectiveness in the global arena."—John Boli, professor of sociology, Emory University

"An innovative contribution to the burgeoning literature on NGOs and social movements. Joachim tells a fascinating story of how NGOs shaped two critical issues of our time and how the United Nations responded."—Karen A. Mingst, University of Kentucky

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