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The establishment and strengthening of regional human rights institutions has been hailed as a positive and practical step towards the more effective protection of human rights. But the effectiveness of regional systems depends in large part on prior ideological and institutional commitments to democracy and human rights in states within the region. Using the example of women's rights in Southeast Asia, this article considers how the dynamics of change work in and among regions where a majority of states are not liberal democracies. This article argues that in circumstances where states are not already committed to democracy and human rights, then premature attempts to promote norms at the regional level actually undercut efforts to positively shape the behavior of states. In contrast, norms articulated at the global level, through global instruments and institutions, have comparatively greater power to procure change.