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The United States is still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion. The move makes the United States an outlier among developed countries when it comes to abortion rights, but this rollback in women’s equality is part of a broader trend. Women’s political and economic empowerment is stalling or declining around the world—and the assault on women’s rights coincides with a global democratic recession. Why is women’s equality being rolled back at the same time authoritarianism is on the rise? What is the relationship between sexism and democratic backsliding? And why do authoritarians see fully free, politically active women as a threat?
Erica Chenoweth is one of the world’s foremost experts on the history of civil resistance, mass movements, and political repression. They are the Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and they direct the Nonviolent Action Lab at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Zoe Marks is a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and a faculty affiliate at the Harvard University Center for African Studies, where she focuses on political violence, gender equality, and social movements in Africa. Their essay “Revenge of the Patriarchs,” featured in the March/April 2022 issue of Foreign Affairs, previews their forthcoming book Rebel XX: Women on the Frontlines of Revolution. Their insights are crucial to understanding what’s happening to women’s rights at this moment in time, both in the United States and across the globe.
We discuss why autocrats fear women, why feminist movements are such a powerful tool against autocracy, and what the assault on reproductive rights in the United States signifies for American democracy.
You can find transcripts and more episodes of “The Foreign Affairs Interview” at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/podcasts/foreign-affairs-interview.