Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Emily Beaulieu

Second Advisor

Dr. Tiffany Barnes


Why do women protest? Why do women protest “as women”? Why do some women participate in protests but not others? In the wake of the Women’s March of 2017, perhaps the largest single day protest event in history, these questions are particularly timely and deserve scholarly attention. One important but understudied and undertheorized motivation for women’s protests is state sanctioned violence, particularly repression. This dissertation explicitly theorizes about how state perpetration of violence, particularly state use of repression, both motivates and shapes women’s protests on a global scale.

In this dissertation, I argue that one key motivation for women’s protest is repression by the state, and I theorize that women will protest more frequently when the state uses repression. Repression negatively impacts members of the population, particularly relatives, friends, and communities of those targeted by the state, and this motivates those people to protest.

However, I argue that the type of repression, and more specifically how gendered the state practices repression, matters. The more that gender plays a role in determining who states target with repression, the more gender matters in the societal response to repression.

In particular, I examine the use of forced disappearances. Based on historical and contemporary accounts, I show that forced disappearance largely targets males, and thus motivates women’s protests but has no effect on protests by other groups. When the state makes use of forced disappearances, some women are motivated to protest due to their connections to victims of repression. Furthermore, opportunities to protest in these circumstances are more available to women than to men, due to their relatively lower likelihood of being targeted, as well as women’s distinctive positions in society and their ability to organize themselves as women.

Not only do women have additional space relative to men to protest when the state is repressive, but individual women recognize that their gender can serve as a resource in such contexts. Thus, individual women are more likely to participate in protests themselves when the state uses repression, closing the gender gap in protest participation between men and women.

I test my theory of women’s protest using two unique approaches. First, utilizing unique new data on women’s protests that is globally comprehensive for all countries from 1990-2009, I show that women’s protests are more frequent when the state is repressive, and that forced disappearances in particular motivate women’s protests, specifically, but do not have an observable effect on general protests. Second, I utilize regionally comprehensive data on citizens in Latin America from 2006 and 2008 to show that women are more likely to participate in protests when the state uses forced disappearances, but that men are not more likely to participate in protests in repressive contexts.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)