Despite the passage of numerous laws in Latin America, impunity in domestic violence cases remains a serious concern throughout the region. This article draws on feminist theories of the state to analyze how the routine practices of low-level state bureaucrats impact women’s experiences navigating legal institutions in urban Nicaragua. Drawing on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews, I show how, contrary to theories of representative bureaucracy, the increased presence of women officials within state institutions does not improve most women’s treatment by police or prosecutors. Rather, only when women have access to specific forms of social capital are their cases granted legitimacy by state actors. This article illustrates the routine practices by which gendered governance operates, as well as how feminist organizations disrupt patterns of bureaucratic indifference by assuming the banner of legitimacy that is rarely afforded to women victims themselves. These findings raise critical questions about the efficacy of traditional legal and bureaucratic strategies for eliminating violence against women, and suggest that one key alternative is to strengthen the capacities of civil society organizations that provide accompaniment to women victims.


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pp. 1105-1125
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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