A Comparative Analysis of Women’s Political Rights, 1981–2004: The Role of Legal Traditions

Udi Sommer*, Victor Asal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, we focus on the legal system to explain cross-national and temporal variance in women’s political rights. Compared to alternative legal systems, we find that common law is correlated with less political rights for women. The concepts of political discontinuity and legal memory are central to our theoretical framework. Political discontinuity occurs in times of deep political disruptions; for instance, during revolutionary periods. Whereas typically revolutions did not readily yield lasting improvements in women’s political rights, individual and systemic forms of legal memory meant that later progress toward political equality was facilitated. It is hard to overestimate the influence of legal systems on women’s rights around the world. Using available data for 148 countries from 1981 to 2004, we found that legal systems’ effect is robust to inclusion of more recent periods of upheaval, various model specifications and functional forms, disparate datasets, and different outcome variables.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-440
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Women, Politics and Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • Women’s rights
  • civil law
  • common law
  • legal memory
  • legal traditions
  • political discontinuity


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