Constructing state institutions in order to address violence against women is an important component to building a democratic state. In particular, reshaping the police and their practices so that they are responsive to the basic needs of citizens is central to promoting democratic citizenship. When are countries, in varying degrees of development, likely to construct state institutions, and transform their practices, in order to implement norms that protect women from violence? What explains variation in the extent and types of institutional transformations? This dissertation brings into focus something generally ignored by other scholars studying institutional change across both developed and developing contexts: the importance of a continued presence of international organizations and donors constantly pressuring, providing monitoring, and providing funding to domestic governments, which has enabled the development and improved performance of many specialized women’s institutions.
I argue that institutional change within the justice system to address violence against women has happened incrementally, with a lot of pressure coming from coordinated efforts among local activists, international activists and donors, and sympathetic actors within the state. Relying on external support and pressure for state-building does give rise to many dilemmas. For example, donors sometimes undermine the aims they intend to support by increasing competition for resources and failing to support long-term efforts to challenge underlying inequalities that make women vulnerable to violence. However, institutions addressing the needs of marginalized groups would not be changed or transformed if we relied on the initiative of states. States have historically been a major source of marginalization for women, and this is the reason that inter-institutional coordination is necessary for state-building in the first place. This dissertation focuses on how these processes are exemplified by the rise and transformation of policing and judicial institutions in Latin America to address violence against women.