Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family Under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies

This remarkable book will immediately establish Htun as a major thinker on Latin America, gender, and theories of dictatorship and democratization. Masterfully challenging much conventional wisdom, she offers a fascinating exegesis of how Argentina, Brazil, and Chile responded to challenges to their traditional patriarchal laws on family life and gender relations between the 1960s and the 1990s. She demonstrates how reform came about in surprising ways -- in Brazil, the military dictatorship legalized divorce, and Pinochet's government in Chile gave women full civil rights for the first time -- and emphasizes that transitions to democracy do not necessarily lead to the liberalization of gender laws. Indeed, the opposite often occurs; Latin American democracies have, for example, uniformly failed to change old laws on abortion. This Htun attributes to the region's lack of a history of constitutional liberalism and the institutions that sustain it. Democracy, therefore, opens the door to both liberal and illiberal mobilization on gender policy (and, given the influence of the Catholic Church in countries without a strong civil society, the latter is often more likely). Reform depends more on the separation of church and state and the juridical equality of citizens than on democratization alone.

Latest Commentary & News analysis