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Despite a dramatic expansion in states' adoption of UN agreements to protect human rights, these efforts often fail to deliver on the full promise of compliance within national contexts. In this paper, we examine the process and mechanisms behind this hypocrisy paradox—when states sign onto yet fail to comply with international agreements. Borrowing from repression and social movement literature, we identify one central process that states draw on to avoid garnering international condemnation while maintaining non-compliance nationally: soft repression. We highlight two mechanisms of soft repression: the mobilization of state resources (working at the macro-level to silence activists) and counterframing techniques (working at the meso-level to stigmatize activists and their goals). Using Ghana as a case study, we demonstrate how proposed domestic violence legislation lost ground when state actors mobilized resources to stall the bill and successfully counterframed the law as a foreign import and a threat to Ghanaian nationalism and families.

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Over the past twenty years, the dramatic shift in attention by activists and scholars toward international institutions has been predicated, in part, by the potential for transnational mobilization to achieve global social change. Yet despite a host of successes in institutionalizing new international norms, and a dramatic expansion in states' adoption of UN agreements, mobilization efforts often fail to deliver on compliance within national contexts. This failure creates an unintended "hypocrisy paradox" for weak states,1 who, attracted to international agreements, perceive the ability to strengthen their legitimacy by ratifying new norms—even though they may have no intention or capacity to implement them.2 In fact, world polity scholars propose that this is what contributes to decoupling between symbolic international commitments and actual policy.3

Existing studies indicate that the non-alignment between national polices and UN agreements is often related to lack of resources (and hence the ability to comply), or the lack of will (and thus the desire to comply).4 This, combined with the relatively weak institutional requirements for compliance, encourages many states to ratify international agreements as a "window dressing" on the world stage,5 while simultaneously engaging in domestic policy violations.6 Nation-states therefore appear compliant and [End Page 933] legitimate to international actors, while simultaneously denying rights to local national citizens.

The need by some nations for global legitimacy contrasted with the inability or will to comply is further compounded by the type of governments found across developing countries. The "third wave" of democratization (1970s to 1990s) led some developing countries, first appearing successful in their democratic transitions, to later backslide into semi-authoritarian practices.7 These countries, no longer categorized as fully integrated democracies nor as absolute autocracies, took on the composition of hybrid regimes8—containing some institutional aspects of democracy (such as regular elections and democratic constitutions), but still maintaining authoritarian functional components (including corruption and patronage, illegitimate elections, and a lack of state capacity to meet its citizens' needs).9 Hybrid regimes therefore exude democracy in form, but often fail to uphold basic democratic functions, including practical accession to treaty commitments. Given the relatively weak institutional requirements for compliance, democracies combined with a lack of structural capacity and checks on corruption (but with a strategic interest in the legitimacy of their government in international venues), are far more "at risk" of seeking the benefits of world society while embracing strategies that limit national policy impacts.

We argue that some states—particularly hybrid states—not only fail to comply, but also actively resist implementing their international commitments—even in the face of strong domestic mobilization. We highlight one specific mechanism of non-compliance: soft repression—defined as "the mobilization of nonviolent means to silence or eradicate oppositional ideas."10 We additionally identify two components contributing to this process of soft repression: 1) the mobilization of state resources (i.e., state actors, government branches, etc.) in support of the state's position, and 2) state actors' strategic use of counternarratives or "counterframes" in media and the public domain to discredit opponents or local movements who frame their mobilization in the language of international norms. By using [End Page 934] mechanisms traditionally employed by countermovements,11 states can resist compliance without attracting negative international attention. Drawing on over one year of ethnographic fieldwork, six in-depth interviews with key actors, and the analyses of thirty-eight newspaper articles, we examine the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill in Ghana to provide insight into the process and mechanisms contributing to the hypocrisy paradox.

In Ghana, the government ratified CEDAW in 1986 and acceded to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993. After Ghanaian activists returned from the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, they aligned with state actors to draft the Domestic Violence Bill under the auspices of international commitments to address human rights as they applied to gender-based violence. Shortly thereafter, however, the state's actions belied their publicly stated intentions. Although the bill ultimately passed in 2007, state actors delayed the bill by eight years and successfully transformed its contents by using tactics to stall its passage. Given the state's privileged position as mediator between international agreements and domestic populations, and its structure as a hybrid regime, soft repression became a powerful means to stall and weaken international compliance.12

Recognizing components of soft repression is one step toward understanding and addressing the hypocrisy paradox and decoupling process. We highlight the circumstances under which nation-states mitigate and adapt the implementation of new international norms to the practicalities of domestic political structures and contexts.


Some of the best efforts to explain changes in state behavior focus on the role of activists in closing the gap between a state's symbolic commitment to new norms and their potential implementation. Domestic activists, emboldened by transnational mobilization, can socialize the state to comply by mobilizing in transnational and national venues in order to hold governments accountable to international agreements.13 International commitments [End Page 935] thus legitimate and empower domestic movements to work as partners in governance with nation-states.14 In some cases, this process is successful. Coupling is more likely to occur in states where local conditions and beliefs resonate more deeply with the global norms embedded in international treaties.15 Similarly, states' likelihood of local compliance is dependent on the type of right conferred,16 the treaty type ratifed,17 their adherence to optional complaint mechanisms,18 and the levels of trade and investment linking individual states to the broader world polity.19

Yet, despite the fact that international agreements may create opportunities between activists and the state—potentially legitimating nation-states within the world polity, and providing access to resources (through foreign aid and investment)—their implementation may simultaneously threaten or pose impractical demands on state power within the nation-state.20 The impracticality of these demands varies according to a state's position within world society, where policy diffusion depends on its relative reputational, [End Page 936] political, or economic standing.21 States less integrated into a world society dominated by Western and universalist norms may be more attracted to the benefits world society offers in terms of international legitimacy and authority, yet, also less capable or inclined to comply when challenged to adhere to the norms.22

This process of decoupling between international commitments and their implementation is anticipated by world polity scholars, who acknowledge that diffusion is a complex and multi-step process, and that idealized models "cannot simply be imported wholesale as a fully functioning system."23 In terms of state capacity, scholars demonstrate that nations with lower levels of democracy,24 and those with fewer political access points for activists and strong elites to create change,25 are more likely to experience decoupling. In terms of willingness to comply, research shows that highly repressive states with high levels of autonomy over domestic forces and few executive constraints are not only more likely to commit to human rights treaties than moderately repressive states, but they are also more likely to decouple from their commitments. This is often due to the disconnect between ruling structures and constraints on the state typically posed by civil society, national legislatures, interest groups, and political parties. Additionally, other scholars find that states "forum shop" for preferential treatment in international agreements, often choosing to commit to human rights provisions in order to gain access to preferential trade agreements, leading to variation in compliance.26 Therefore, states that promote hard human rights enforcement (and are less likely to decouple) often do so as a side payment to achieve access to important global markets, whereas those who engage only in "cheap talk" do so to appease local demand for human rights while not actively pursuing enforcement.

Though these explanations describe the conditions that predict decoupling, they rarely address the active strategies employed by domestic actors [End Page 937] in rejecting human rights practices. Recognizing this gap, Zimmerman, in her study on rural and indigenous Guatemalans, advocates for the consideration of local actors' agency in decoupling. She argues that "[t]his can be the basis for better explanations of how and why certain conditions brought about certain types of translation results . . . [focusing on local actors' agency] has hardly been explored thus far."27 Examining the active role of the state and the specific mechanisms it employs to decouple can highlight how states take advantage of local circumstances to prevent coupling, and why some state mechanisms may be used over others. We fill this gap by offering a deeper analysis that pinpoints two specific state-led decoupling mechanisms: resource mobilization and counterframing.

We further argue that hybrid regimes facilitate the use of soft repression since they generally allow elected leaders more power.28 For example, one hybrid regime—the imperial presidency—is described by van de Walle as a governance structure where, "power is intensely personalised around the figure of the president. . . . He is literally above the law, controls in many cases a large proportion of state finance with little accountability, and delegates remarkably little of his authority on important matters."29 Cabinet positions, meetings, and even competitive elections, while extant, are largely ceremonial and used to appease the press and international donors. As a result, the allocation of state resources is often determined by the president's clientelistic and patronage networks—not constituent need.30 It is perhaps not surprising then that lack of compliance with international agreements can be explained by factors other than a lack of capability, despite a state's best intentions. In fact, we argue, states such as Ghana indeed possess the capabilities for enforcement, but not the will, and thus actively work to avoid implementing international norms.

Because the nation-state is where negotiations for compliance with international agreements occur, current literature could benefit from additional analysis of the local or domestic context, where nation-state actors make decisions about how much, how far, and where nation policy can or should align with their commitments before, during, and after they acceded to new international commitments. We build on existing studies by focusing our attention on the role of the hybrid state and its use of soft repression. [End Page 938]

A. State Power and Soft Repression

Movement scholars propose that international commitments have power, as states face the prospect of domestic activists inciting local polities to force state compliance. In response to such mobilization, states typically focus on the use of coercive and/or violent tactics to respond to protest—employing hard repression in response to mobilization.31 This may be overt and coercive, in the form of disappearances, and extend to the use of state agents, such as deploying local police to control protests.32 Yet, use of coercion can backfire by drawing additional pressure from critical states, media, or international institutions and lead to, rather than restrict, change.33 Soft repression, on the other hand, emphasizes legitimacy, autonomy, and authority as a significant constitutive aspect of state power.34 Similar to Nye's comparisons between hard and soft power,35 hard repression embodies the "carrot and stick" mentality of hard power, whereas soft repression, like soft power, makes use of ideals, values, and propaganda to compel others to "want what you want."36

Myra Marx Ferree provides an analytic framework for soft repression to explain non-state responses to mobilization. Defined as "the mobilization of nonviolent means to silence or eradicate oppositional ideas,"37 Ferree argues that countermovement adherents succeed through "the collective mobilization of power . . . to limit and exclude ideas and identities in the public forum."38 Repression operates non-violently in three ways: (1) Micro-level ridicule is targeted against individuals, used in everyday interactions, and is used "to diminish and disarm cultural challengers who are mobilizing or mobilized;" (2) Meso-level stigma is aimed at damaging a group by [End Page 939] challenging its collective identity and devaluing how the public views the group as a whole in order to prevent its mobilizing potential; and (3) Macrolevel silencing suppresses voices through institutional practices that block mobilization. Although not excluding the possibility that states may engage in such actions, Ferree emphasizes civil society as the locus of soft repression because of the relative inability for these actors to employ legitimate coercive means.39

States, however, do employ soft repression to block mobilization. In Denmark, for example, state elites and news media outlets successfully demobilized a campaign decrying anti-Muslim political cartoons by stigmatizing, silencing, and alienating members of the protest coalition, and excluding key Muslim leaders from offering input on government projects.40 In Spain, anti-corruption protests were met with tactics of soft repression, such as administrative sanctions (fines, identity checks, red tape, etc.) against those engaging in protests that violated civic order or did not receive prior approval, as well as targeted implementation of municipal by-laws to limit collective action in public spaces.41

While this suggests soft repression is indeed a useful tool for states to avoid "backfire" against traditional mechanisms of hard repression,42 scholars have been silent on its utility in avoiding international treaties and human rights commitments. We hypothesize that soft repression also enables government authorities in domestic contexts to silence, label, stereotype, and discriminate against activists, which may delegitimize and derail the mobilization process, further extending the period of non-compliance.43 Additionally, as we are interested in state actions, we specifically focus on Ferree's macro and meso levels of soft repression, with attention given to the mobilization of state resources (working at the macro-level to silence activists) and counterframing techniques (working at the meso-level to stigmatize activists).44 [End Page 940]

B. Mobilizing State Resources

Activists' ability to translate grievances into collective action is predicated on their ability to mobilize resources in support of their cause. These resources may be tangible (e.g. money) or intangible (e.g. leadership).45 However, resources must first be recognized and then mobilized to be of benefit.46 When activists are successful and form a social movement, they may give rise to countermovements seeking to thwart social change. States face many of the same pressures to mobilize support in responding to collective action.47 However, states face the particular challenge of resisting domestic mobilization without sacrificing the increased legitimacy that accompanies participation in international regimes. In the context of differing interpretations of global norms, the avenues of support and response among elites are potentially far more conflict-ridden and contradictory. Mobilizing state resources to gain support from other state actors and agencies, as well as local populations, may therefore be an effective way to limit the impact of international commitments on domestic policy by substantiating their status in the global commons while at the same time retaining their legitimacy, flexibility, and authority to vary practice.48 Further, states presumably have the legitimate bureaucratic and rational authority to institutionalize new norms within the nation-state and thus a privileged position and authority to frame their position as the "correct" or "proper" frame to interpret the application of international norms within domestic contexts.49 Legitimacy affords state actors privileged access to state agencies, bureaucracies, and [End Page 941] authorities (leaders), as well as access to the media.50 In mobilizing these resources, states may effectively silence new challengers and their claims.

C. Framing and Counterframing

Frames are "action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of a social movement organization."51 Successful frames resonate with existing cultural ideas, norms, and values; activists thus attempt to frame their grievances to appeal to a broader audience with the goal of strengthening their cause. One way global frames resonate with state and non-state actors in transnational spaces is by referencing the universal discourses of global civil society. Upon return to the domestic arena, both activists and governmental officials may bring these global frames with them and make "use of external symbols to orient local or national claims."52 If activists employ global framing to pressure states to abide by international norms, states that are unwilling to comply must limit the efficacy of these frames. To do so, counterframing, or "rhetorical strategies that challenge the original claims or frames," is important in limiting the resonance of new norms in domestic politics.53 Most notably, access to and control over the message in the media plays an important role in shaping political responses to protest.54 Media studies demonstrate how the state, via its special access to media outlets and thus privileged role amplifying counterframes, shapes public opinion.55 Ghana, with a presidential hybrid regime, provides an ideal case to examine the use of these tools tied to soft repression. [End Page 942]


A. The State

The origins of modern African presidential hybrid regimes can be traced back to their colonial and post-colonial histories. Colonial rulers often doled out patronage resources to those who reinforced their legitimacy and rule, typically favoring traditional male leaders.56 During the rise of nationalist independence movements, it was often these same traditional male leaders who assumed positions of power and quickly centralized their power in their newly sovereign states following independence—a practice not dissimilar to previous colonial practices of patronage and personal rule.57 The new authoritarian leaders often considered themselves to be the "father-of the-nation" who existed above the law—enjoying unrestricted term limits and maintaining power by providing state resources to loyal clients.58 African presidents who maintained monopolies on the distribution of coveted resources (e.g. government positions, funding, and contracts) could thus allocate these resources to local political clients who reinforced and expanded their claim to authority. Local actors therefore often endorsed whomever best supported the welfare of their communities, even if it reinforced political corruption and the consolidation of power around the President. These types of patronage networks constitute the foundations of clientelism, or a system of mutual dependence between leaders and their followers, whereby political loyalty is exchanged for patronage resources.59

As the third wave of democratization set in, African governments began to set term limits and institutionalize competitive elections, allowing for political turnover to occur.60 Additionally, constitutionalism—or the belief in the necessity of a written Constitution that structurally limits government power through laws enforcing the division of powers, checks, and balances, democratically representative government61—began to hold more weight than in the period immediately following independence.62 Yet, the impacts of de jure constitutionalism remain limited. As Prempeh states, "where an [End Page 943] authoritarian regime was strong enough at the time of transition to have retained control of the transition timetable and the reform agenda, as was the case in Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, the ensuing constitutional revisions were often done with regime continuity in mind."63 In the case of multiparty elections, opponents often had opportunistic motives and were in reality "recycled elites" seeking similar ends as the ousted incumbents.64 Today, while some political opposition exists and accountability has increased, democratic institutions are still dominated by heavy presidential influence.65

The establishment of African presidential autocracy itself has been deeply tied to Ghana's own Kwame Nkrumah, who centralized the executive, consolidated party control over state apparatus, and was considered by observers to hold "the fourth branch" of Ghanaian government.66 Although Nkrumah only ruled until 1966, his legacy remains. Saaka notes the continuity of Nkrumah-like politics among Ghana's various heads of state—Jerry Rawlings (1981 to 2001) in particular—and deems Nkrumah's style "the fundamental basis of contemporary politics in Ghana."67

President Kufuor's reign (2000 to 2008) is no exception to this trend. For instance, Article 108 in the Ghanaian constitution "gives the President the upper hand if not a virtual monopoly in the making of the national budget and the allocation of public funds, including determining the size of Parliament's operating budget."68 This, in addition to the unchecked power to create new ministries, protects the president from parliamentary oversight and allows him to expand his patronage networks.69 As an example, Mustapha and Whifield further cite Kufuor's reshuffling of cabinet members and creation of new districts to maintain control over Parliament and gain electoral support, respectively.70 With a corruption index rating of 2.7–5.9 (on a scale of 1–10 with 10 indicating perfect transparency) in 2002, patronage and clientelism remain a problem in Ghana.71 This continued centralization of [End Page 944] power in the hands of the Ghanian President was crucial for the use of soft repression, as it offered Kufuor unwieldy power with which he was able to stall the Domestic Violence Bill.

This power transferred to the media as well. As a participant-observer at the Daily Graphic from 1995 to 2000, Jennifer Hasty of the University of Pennsylvania witnessed an exclusion of private journalists from state assignments and the use of state-owned media to promote positive images of the state.72 Specifically, she emphasizes the government's use of media to publicize government-led development programs, trade fairs, or acceptance of aid, and the existence of propriety between journalists and politicians. She notes, "state journalists on assignment . . . only ask friendly questions because they would never want to embarrass the president."73 With access to a passive state-influenced media and considerable power to direct state funds, manipulate state apparatus, and move and remove undesirable party personnel, it is clear that in 2000, President Kufuor remained the primary state policy and agenda-setter. This political environment set the stage for local Ghanaian activists as they drew attention to the Domestic Violence Bill. In particular, women's rights activists were instrumental to bringing the Bill to the forefront of public consciousness.

B. Women's Activism

The women's movement in Ghana emerged in the 1990s, after the transition to democracy in 1992. Prior to 1992, the 31 December Women's Movement, a large state run organization tied to the authoritarian regime, either coopted or stifled women's nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), leading to mistrust between NGO members.74 Despite the mistrust that remained after the transition, by 1999, women's organizations began to form coalitions.75 Not only were women emboldened by the fact that President Rawlings was required to step down in the 2000 elections, they recognized that they had more visibility if they worked together, and the current domestic conditions in Ghana allowed for the creation of a strong and organic network. The campaign against domestic violence emerged within this time frame of increased activism and strong coalitions. [End Page 945] Local activists linked their domestic efforts to transnational mobilization and the discourse surrounding international conventions during the Beijing 1995 era. As indicated by two Ghanaian organizers in 1999:

It must be recognized that shifts in the international climate, around the issue of violence against women, opened up national spaces for local initiatives. . . . One result has been the gradual recognition by international bodies such as the United Nations, of violence against women as a pressing social issue. . . . [They] helped to shape a national climate of readiness for our own work on violence.76

Several observers noted that the international agenda of the 1995 UN Fourth Women's World Conference in Beijing was the result of regional planning priorities—all of which mentioned violence against women as one of the top five concerns.77 Two major preparatory meetings were held in Ghana: a consensus-building meeting for the region, and a strategy regional meeting.78 The Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University also built momentum to recast "women's rights as human rights" in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and, as part of this, spearheaded an effort to include violence against women as a violation of women's human rights.79

Ghanaian activists' actions appeared to influence the language used by government officials in Ghana as well. When a Marital Rape Bill was first discussed in 1999, human rights and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), language was deployed by government officials.80 The state's presentation of the bill demonstrated that, in the beginning, state actors were in accordance with activists in framing domestic violence as an international human rights concern.

Events in the domestic sphere also contributed to discourse surrounding domestic violence. From 1997 until 2000, approximately thirty women were murdered in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and activists began to openly organize against the state in 1999 to address the killings.81 A coalition of women's groups formed to place pressure on the police and the government to solve the murders, and also tied these murders to violence against women [End Page 946] more broadly, calling upon men to protect their sisters. With continued pressure, a perpetrator was arrested, the murders stopped, and President Kufour created a ministry that addressed women's and children's affairs.

Drawing on both international and domestic events, activists and state actors demonstrated their support for addressing the legal concerns of domestic violence within the Ghanaian context.82 This set the stage for the Domestic Violence Bill.


In order to examine the relationship between activists and state actors, as they engaged the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill, we draw on ethnographic observations within Ghana, in-depth interviews with six central Ghanaian individuals involved in the debate surrounding the Domestic Violence Bill (DV Bill), analysis of thirty-eight newspaper articles, and secondary sources. In addition to two previous years spent in Ghana, the first author also spent one year in Ghana from 1997 to 1998, collecting in-depth interviews among members from women's organizations. During this time, the Gender Centre was beginning to conduct the nationwide survey of the prevalence of domestic violence. The first author returned in the summer of 1999 to conduct additional interviews among members to understand their organizational activities. During this period, the Law Reform Commission was constructing a bill on domestic violence. Because of the regular interaction with activists, and by witnessing the progression of the DV Bill, the author chose to collect targeted and detailed interviews. Most of the respondents were familiar with the author and welcomed interest in their ongoing activities. The organizations chosen for the interviews were all highly involved in working to bring attention to domestic violence and the bill. A representative from the Ministry was included to provide a voice from the state. The interviews were conducted in Ghana in December of 2004 during the period of the fourth presidential elections. The issue of the DV Bill, because of the electoral timing, was at its height.

In-depth interviews were conducted with representatives from six key activist organizations. The Gender Centre was founded in 1994 to focus on domestic violence issues. Members of the organization conducted a nationwide survey on domestic violence in 1997, and published a book on the results. WISE (Women's Initiative for Self-Empowerment) was formed in 1999 to provide counseling and support programs for survivors of violence. ABANTU for Development was established in 1997 for the primary goal [End Page 947] of focusing on research and policy implications, with domestic violence as one facet. NETRIGHT (Network for Women's Rights in Ghana) was founded in 1998 to bring women's organizations together to work toward common goals. A number of the above representatives were also active members of Federacion Internacional de Abogadas (FIDA)—a non-profit lawyer organization supporting women, and an active participant in the creation of the DV Bill. Finally, the Domestic Violence Coalition (DV Coalition) was formed in 2003 to provide a coalition of organizations interested in placing pressure on the government to push the DV Bill through. All of the previous organizations mentioned were members of the DV Coalition. In opposition to these organizations, and a representative of the government, was the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs created in 2000. This became the key ministry involved in engaging the DV Bill. All interviews were conducted in private offices in 2004, except one interview, which was conducted by phone in July 2006. Each interview lasted between one to two hours.

The interviews are supplemented with the analysis of 38 local newspaper reports on the domestic violence bill collected online from 22 April 2002 (the moment attention was brought to the DV Bill) until 23 February 2007 (when the bill was passed). The articles were analyzed to verify if the press corroborated the patterns found in the interviews, and to determine how the bill was presented within the public purview. Many of the articles were collected from, which warehouses sub-Saharan African articles over time, but are taken from main national Ghanaian newspapers. Others were collected directly from newspaper online sources. The newspaper sources include The Ghanaian Chronicle, The Public Agenda, The Daily Graphic, The Daily Guide, The Accra Daily Mail, and The Statesman.

In the following section, we provide a brief overview of the evolution of the DV Bill within Ghana, before drawing on these data to reveal how the mechanisms of counterframing and the mobilization of state resources were used as a form of soft repression. We end by presenting the activists' limited responses to the soft repression tactics.

A. Overview of the Domestic Violence Bill

In the late 1990s, according to a former employee of the Law Reform Commission, the government requested work on a Marital Rape Bill. The government wanted the Law Reform Commission to address the issue since marital rape and domestic violence were legal according to existing criminal code rooted in British common law. Specifically, Section 42(g) of the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29) states:

The use of force against a person may be justified on the ground of his consent, but a person may revoke any consent which he has given to the use of force [End Page 948] against him, and his consent when so revoked shall have no effect for justifying force; save that the consent given by a husband or wife at marriage, for the purposes of marriage, cannot be revoked until the parties are divorced or separated by a judgment or decree of a competent Court.83

In this instance, consent is interpreted as providing the husband the right to physically assault and rape his wife. Theoretically, the wife has the same claims. The Marital Rape Bill, however, was put on hold by the government.84 Members of local NGOs thus decided to take up the issue.

In the creation of the DV Bill, which was spearheaded by the FIDA and other NGOs, the goal was to define domestic violence, the process of protection orders, and other miscellaneous provisions. Although the bill was comprehensive, there were two primary points of contention between state actors and activists. One was simply repealing Section 42(g) of the Criminal Code, and the other was wording used in Section 1(b)(ii) of the new Bill. This section stated,

sexual abuse, namely the forceful engagement of another person in any sexual contact whether married or not which includes sexual conduct that abuses, humiliates or degrades the other person or otherwise violates another person's sexual integrity whether married or not or any sexual contact by a person aware of being infected with HIV or any other STD with another person without the other person being given prior information of the infection.85

In terms of repealing Section 42(g), activists wanted to make certain that physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within marriage was not legally upheld. In relation to Section 1(b)(ii), activists aimed to criminalize sexual abuse, whether taking place inside or outside of marriage. State actors, however, took issue with the criminalization of sexual abuse within marriage, leading to the controversy surrounding the bill.

After members of NGOs drafted the DV Bill, they submitted it to the Attorney General in 2000,86 where the bill should have made its way to Parliament. However, this did not happen, and little information surfaced on its whereabouts or progress for nearly two years. In 2003, when members of women's organizations recognized that nothing had been done with the DV Bill, they formed the Domestic Violence Coalition (DV Coalition) [End Page 949] to place pressure on the government to move the bill through. Members of the DV Coalition learned that the bill was with the Ministry for Women and Children's Affairs (MOWAC), and publicly drew attention to the bill to bring it before Parliament.

The government's initial public response came during a sensitization workshop hosted by FIDA in 2003. During the workshop, Minister Asmah, of MOWAC, made the claim that domestic violence concepts originating from Western nations, particularly Europe and the United States, may not be appropriate for Ghana.87 She specifically drew attention to marital rape, which she suggested should not be imported without considering local context, and appealed to Ghanaian nationalism by stating, "We are first and foremost Ghanaians, and so we must first of all find home brewed solutions to our problems."88 She ends by stating that an extensive national survey must be implemented to determine the opinions of the Ghanaian public.89

After Minister Asmah made the public statement, the Ministry began to translate the bill into 8 different dialects, in preparation for conducting educational reviews in all ten regions of Ghana. For the first 5 educational reviews, which took place before the 2004 presidential elections, activists were not invited to attend and participate. In the same year, the government ran out of money to complete the reviews, which prevented the bill from returning to the Attorney General. The reviews were halted, and then reinstated nearly one year later, in 2005.

Meanwhile. activists went into high gear to place pressure on the government to make changes to MOWAC, due to the Ministry's handling of the bill. In January, President Kufour replaced the previous minister with a new minister, Hajia Alima Mahama.90 Activists were generally happier with the appointment of the new minister, since she came from within the movement. In the beginning, relations between the Ministry and the activists were collegial, and the Ministry invited the DV Coalition to participate in the educational reviews in the remaining regions in Ghana. However, the new minister also made it clear that she still had to please the President. As a member of NETRIGHT explained,

Once the minister changed, people were more hopeful. . . . In the end, I think it turned out to be a disappointment. . . . She would always remind us about her constraints. Eventually she came out and announced . . . she had spoken to her president about the marital rape clause and they were clear that they wanted it out and that there was nothing she could do about it.91 [End Page 950]

Although the struggle initially appeared to be between activists and the Minister of MOWAC, the stance and actions were clearly supported by the president and his executive branch.

The bill was finally sent to Parliament in May 2006 and referred to two committees for comment: the Committee on Gender and Children, and the Committee on Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs. The bill was sent, however, without the repeal of Section 42(g) of the Criminal Code, which was the initial reason for the development of the Marital Rape Bill, and later the DV Bill. Eventually, in February 2007, the bill was passed in Parliament, without the repeal of Section 42(g), and with no inclusion of sexual abuse within marriage in Section 1(b)(ii).

Although the Section 42(g) was not repealed in June 2007, activists discovered that it had been silently repealed. Justice V.C.R.A.C. Crabbe had been appointed by the government to revise all statutes of Ghana from the Nineteenth Century to current times. He was charged with aligning all statutes of Ghana with the current Constitution and with International Human Rights Laws. This led to changes in Ghanaian law, including a number of repeals. Although Parliament had to approve the repeals, they were not informed of the inclusion of Section 42(g). The repeal may have come simply to keep laws in-line with the Ghanaian constitution and international laws, or it may have come to silence gender activists. Despite no public announcement of the repeal, activists did learn of it, quelling their public pressure on the state to address it. The result is bittersweet. Although marital rape is no longer constitutionally justified, it still remains unrecognized legally.

Because most of the negotiations in the Ghanaian DV bill case study happened outside of Parliament, and the primary goal of activists was to simply get the bill to Parliament, the focus of our analysis is on the soft repression mechanisms used by the state to prevent the bill from going forward to Parliament: the mobilization of state resources and counterframing techniques. In the section below, we link the actions of the DV Bill back to the theoretical frames of soft repression.


Although world-polity theorists suggest that hybrid states such as Ghana may be unwilling or unable to align their domestic laws with the UN resolutions they committed to, as demonstrated by the initial failure to bring the DV bill to Parliament, few studies examine the specific mechanisms states might use to actively resist movements without resorting to hard repression. We build on Ferree's definition of soft repression by demonstrating how state actors may silence activists at the macro level through the mobilization of state resources and how they may draw on stigma to limit activists' mobilization tactics at the meso-level through counterframing techniques. [End Page 951]

A. Mobilizing State Resources

State actors may draw on soft repression at the macro level, through the use of resources to silence voices. From the beginning, the state, and especially one categorized as an imperial presidency, was placed at an advantage because it had the capacity to mobilize resources for its benefit, which led to the silencing of activists. The state silenced the advancement of the bill, and the activists, by simply not taking any action. The state first relied on institutional mechanisms to stall the bill when it was initially submitted. After the Attorney General received it, the bill should have made its way to Parliament. The DV Bill, however, was initially "lost" within the branches of the government. Only after the DV Coalition formed to place public pressure on the state did activists discover that the bill had been moved to MOWAC. It was within this ministry that the bill faced scrutiny, and the time needed to move the bill to Parliament continually increased.

Once activists brought the bill into the public sphere, the state turned to material resources and authority.92 Material resources were significant in undermining implementation by both providing funds for actively stalling the bill in translation services, travel costs, and governmental review meetings, as well as through depriving the ministry of the capacity to complete these reviews during an election year. Without warning, after five reviews were conducted, funds ran dry, delaying the bill further.93

Simultaneously, state actors took advantage of the educational reviews and the media to propagate their message. For example, during Minister Asmah's address to an audience in Tamale, a city in northern Ghana, Ghana News reported, "She drew the attention of the participants to the marital rape issue and urged them to look at it critically and come out with the best alternative suggestions." She further stated, "'For instance, where do we draw the line? At what level do we say a husband has raped his wife? . . . [S]uch issues may be easily explained in other cultures but we have to be careful in our environment . . . should a case like this occur and a husband goes to jail for raping his wife, what happens to that marriage and children?'"94 Minister Asmah set the terms of the discussion by drawing attention to the idea of martial rape as foreign and destructive to Ghanaian families. [End Page 952]

Finally, state representatives used and relied on the media to amplify their stance. Beginning from the time that Minister Asmah made the first claim about the DV Bill until the moment she left office, eight out of twelve articles addressing the DV Bill were written from the perspective of the state, while only four out of the twelve articles were written from the perspective of the activists.95 Not only did the media cover Minister Asmah during events, such as during the FIDA workshop and the Tamale review, but statements she made were often referred to when the DV Bill was discussed in other venues. For example, during a presidential debate in 2004, the topic of domestic violence was covered and Minister's Asmah's stance was presented in the press.96 Minister Asmah would also take advantage of events, such as the government's weekly press meetings, to spread her perspective.97 A representative for the Gender Centre summarized the position and tactics of the state very well. She said:

I think that . . . the bill has been misinterpreted . . . because of the kind of leadership we have at the ministry for women and children's affairs-yes-who seem to be brought into this media campaign on the bill. . . . But if we have a leadership that is prepared to champion this and see this through, all these things (debates and arguments) will die out.98

The representative of the Gender Centre links the struggles with the state back to Minister Asmah, the connection the Ministry has with the media—acknowledging a media campaign—as well as to the lack of action taken (and suggested support) by President Kufour.

Although Minister Asmah and the Ministry became the target of the activists, the activists also recognized that it was the larger state structure that was impeding them. If government representatives wanted to support the bill, they could have influenced the ministry's actions, as well as the media reports on the issue. Instead, elected officials and bureaucratic agencies worked as allies to the president in mobilizing material, human, and organizational resources to effectively suppress the voices of activists via institutional means. These actions were further supported through the use of counterframing techniques. [End Page 953]

B. Counterframing Techniques

The macro-level silencing through resource mobilization worked in tandem with the meso-level creation of stigma through counterframing techniques. We further argue that stigma was expanded to devalue, delegitimize, or damage the goal of the mobilizing group.

One key player was Minister Asmah. By drawing on her particular position as minister and her relationship to the media, she was able to use the state's authority and create a counterframe to the DV Bill by shifting it from international universalist language to that of local challenges. The counter-frame of domestic violence (and in particular marital rape) as (1) an import that was (2) "unGhanaian" and (3) destructive to families, combined three concerns within a larger holistic frame that resonated with Ghanaians. This master counterframe was espoused within MOWAC, amplified through the media, and used to delegitimize the cause.

During an interview with a Ministry representative, when asked broadly about the DV Bill and with no prompting of Section 42(g), the representative focused her attention specifically on the issue of marital rape. She said:

The bill seeks to repeal section 42(g) of our criminal code . . . and by a necessary implication it means that the husband is capable of raping the wife and that is what there is all this noise about martial rape—can a husband rape the wife and can he be prosecuted for raping his wife? . . . I don't know whether we should call it foreign . . . because marital rape, until recently, was not part of our vocabulary. It's a new concept that is fast catching on, developed and people believe that it has some foreign connotation . . . I want to believe that in a traditional setting when a person marries . . . the difference between a sister and a wife is that you can go to bed with your wife. So there's nothing like raping your wife in bed because you've consented to live as husband and wife.99

For the representative, the term and practice of marital rape is deemed foreign since it cannot be translated in Ghanian culture and the topic has not previously been discussed. She also suggests that, within cultural understandings among Ghanaians, a man has a right to forced intercourse within marriage. This recipe of Ghanaian exceptionalism combined with the influence of alien concepts not only dominates perspectives presented by the state-influenced media but also suggests the delegitimization of the law.

In April 2004, during a Meet the Press program, Minister Asmah added family to the mix.100 When she explained the rationale for the national survey, she stated that "it is only proper and democratic to create the enabling conditions for the majority of stakeholders, the Ghanaian family and people, to [End Page 954] contribute their own views to a proposed law."101 She argued that if a woman were to charge her husband, how would this affect her marriage and family? Minister Asmah recognized the power of using family as a counterframe, as it most likely resonated with Ghanians given that extended families are important for economic and social survival. Importantly, using family as a frame was not new to Minister Asmah. Notably, before she counterframed the bill as an issue of marital rape and thus a cultural import, she argued that acts of domestic violence (not the bill) destroyed families and that domestic violence needed to be stopped.102 In both cases, she focused on the destruction of families. Yet, prior to the bill, the act of domestic violence destroyed families. Only after the introduction of the bill does the bill destroy families. Her shift in framing suggests alternative motives most likely aligned with the president's goals. Additionally, when the destruction of families is simultaneously tied to alien concepts, the counterframe becomes more potent and reinforces the notion that activists are introducing a law that is toxic to Ghanaian society.

Minister Asmah further expanded the stigmatization process to the activists themselves by arguing that they were challenging Ghanaian values and destroying families. For example, in October 2004, members of the DV Coalition, along with other local organizations organized a vigil and protest march to bring attention to the DV Bill. After the march, Minister Asmah was quoted in the Daily Guide Newspaper lambasting the protests, "as a mercenary act by dishonest girls and women—few of whom were married before . . . but want to be seen as champions or the cause of women in this country."103 Creating a negative image of the activists in this manner, the government stigmatized them as young women who did not value families and who thrust foreign ideas on Ghanaians to destroy Ghanaian society.

When Minister Asmah left her post, she continued to draw on alien concepts, nationalism, and family. She stated:

They (activists) want me to confront the men, but that is wrong. . . . It will destroy marriages and more children will be thrown on the streets. I will not encourage a law that will destroy marriages," she stressed. She noted that countries that have the Domestic Violence Law have a backlash of divorce cases and that was the last thing Ghana needed at this time of her development. . . . She said, Ghanaians must draw their identity from their culture and not copy blindly any concept that comes from the west.104 [End Page 955]

In framing the bill as un-Ghanaian, she appealed to the larger public to make the bill their own, while simultaneously devaluing both activists and their goal of passing a DV Bill. Minister Asmah's appeal to Ghanaian values, in addition to her call to reject foreign concepts and prevent the destruction of families, stigmatized the bill and activists and spurred a strong counter-movement—a countermovement that resonated with the broader society.

C. Activist Responses to Mechanisms of Soft Repression

The counterframing of the DV Bill created three obstacles for activists. First, in applying a foreign frame to the bill, and later, by holding a specific press conference targeting activists, both were delegitimized and characterized as un-Ghanaian with the intent to destroy families. Stereotypes associated with western feminism as anti-Ghanaian and anti-family impaired activists' mobilizing potential within Ghana. State authorities damaged the collective identity of activists and repositioned themselves as anti-colonial resisters to the threat of western hegemony. Second, in the creation of the master counterframe, the activists were forced to move from pro-active to reactive, which strengthened the state's capacity to thwart the DV Coalition's mobilization efforts. Third, activist access to media was limited and not imbued with state authority, which placed them on the defensive. Because activists had no defense against the use of state structures used to stall the DV Bill, nor did they have equal access to the media let alone the authority and legitimacy of the state, they were limited to responding to Minister Asmah's master counterframe of the DV Bill in a piecemeal fashion on three fronts: 1) using a universalist frame, 2) focusing on the reparation of broken families, and 3) redefining the bill in terms of physical and sexual abuse.

From the time that Minister Asmah first mentioned the DV Bill until the time that the DV Bill was passed (and inclusive of the period after she had stepped down), ten out of thirty-five articles in the media represented the reframing efforts from the perspective of activists, in response to the fourteen of the thirty-five articles from the state perspective.105 In these articles activists are responding to their now questionable position, rather than proactively challenging the state. Their response lacked the authortity often given to the state. [End Page 956]

Activists first attempted to argue that the bill was not foreign. The head of the DV Coalition attempted to combat this perspective by stating:

What the people who argue [against the repeal of section 42(g)] just forget is that this is actually a foreign law. . . . So the argument they have used does not make sense to me because truly that clause is a foreign clause.106

She, along with all of the other organization representatives (exclusive of the representative from the ministry), agreed that marital rape constructed as an imperial imposition was an excuse to frame the bill in a negative light. Activists thus attempted to respond to the counterframe by presenting the bill within the media as a universalist concern. In a public statement, issued by the DV Coalition in the Public Agenda, activists stated that domestic violence laws had been passed in sub-Saharan African countries, and should, therefore, not be viewed as Western, as the minister hoped to propagate.107 Similarly, in The Ghanaian Chronicle, the program manager for WISE requested that "the Ghanaian public not to view aspects of the bill, such as marital rape, as an imposition of foreign cultures. Violence, he insisted, was an issue of grave concern, no matter where it occurred and had to be tackled."108 Even after the bill was passed, an article explained that, in contrast to the former Minister's position, the DV Coalition advocated that "Domestic violence is universal and wife beating, defilement and rape among others are not foreign to this country, therefore a law to punish perpetrators cannot be alien to the nation's culture."109

While activists attempted to disabuse Ghanaians of the idea that the DV Bill was a foreign import, they similarly worked to reframe the bill in defense of the family. Male figureheads used the media to temper the Minister's position on the bill. Adolf Awuku-Bekoe, a clinical psychologist and later the coordinator for the DV Coalition further emphasized that "the bill does not seek to break families but rather seeks to rectify some of the mishaps that have been tearing families apart for some time now."110 After the passage into law, Mr. Henry Tackie, a senior attorney at the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General's Department in 2004, emphasized that "The bill is not coming to destroy families, but to bring love, concern and mutual understanding within families than before and to prepare families for better future development."111 [End Page 957]

Finally, activists attempted to reframe the debate over the bill around the definition of domestic violence. In April 2004, the Executive Director of FIDA clearly stated that "the DV Bill does not talk about marital rape, but rather about forced sexual contact that abuses, humiliates or degrades an individual within or outside of marriage."112 Similarly in the public statement given by the DV Coalition in November 2004, activists emphasized that domestic violence incorporates everyone within the household, and is not limited to marriage, and that it protects anyone within the household from abuse.113

Put on the defensive, activists attempted to counter the state's master-frame—combining foreign influences, Ghanaian nationalism, and the destruction of families, which appealed to broader societal norms and values. Adding to this effect was the state's use of institutional resources, such as government branches, educational reviews, and media coverage—efforts which activists had little control over. Unfortunately, activists were limited by access to resources, such as media, and by lack of authority and legitimacy tied to their statements.


A. Soft Repression

Unfortunately, the state process of meso- and macro-level soft repression are not limited to Ghana. The mechanism of mobilizing state resources is often used to suppress activist voices by preventing them from mobilizing. Dupuy, Ron, and Prakash, for example, demonstrate how laws have been put in place restricting the work of international groups in one-third of sub-Saharan African countries since 1995.114 In Ethiopia, NGOs no longer receive financial support for issues related to human rights, leading to the demise or severe downsizing of some NGOs. In Côte d'Ivoire, legislation has been passed to prevent Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex (LGBTI) organizations from registering with the state, and, therefore, limiting access to funding.115 These additional examples demonstrate how institutional resources of the state may be used to prevent the mobilization around issues linked to human rights without garnering much international attention. [End Page 958]

Additionally, if states counterframe the concerns that speak to nationalism, while also mobilizing state resources, they may astutely discount activists' global or universalist frames. Similar to Ghana, many domestic violence bills faced resistance by national governments across sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya, the Sexual Offences Bill went through a number of revisions, with resistance often coming from male members of Parliament whose objections to the bill within the media were often couched in terms of "holding onto African cultures," and rejecting "alien and foreign practices."116 In Botswana, a bill aimed to make marital rape illegal was thrown out in 2005 in deference to cultural and traditional practices.117 In Malawi, the drafting of a domestic violence bill came under attack for the inclusion of marital rape since the concept did not exist in Malawian culture, and some legislators suggested it threatened the stability of the nation.118 Similarly, outside Africa, in Lebanon, a domestic violence bill sat with a parliamentary subcommittee, where any reference to marital rape was removed. Top religious leaders likewise decried that the domestic violence law would "break up the family similar to Western ways, which are foreign to our society and values."119 These struggles demonstrate how the mechanisms of counterframing, combined with state resources, can be used by states to stall their own compliance with international norms.

Activists' legitimacy and actions are similarly curtailed through stigmatization. Women across developing countries who participate in conferences and use international frames often become discredited by state officials as "those lost, polluted women [i.e., feminists] who want to cause trouble with our women who are happy where they are."120 Writing as a leader of an organization in Pakistan, Nighat Said Khan states, "The Institute, and myself by name, were continuously accused (through the press and television) among other things of being anti-state, anti-government, anti-Islam, of leading women astray, of immorality, debauchery and of being pro-Hindu and pro-Jewish."121 These examples demonstrate the use of local reframing by state institutions to both silence and stigmatize local activists, particularly women. [End Page 959]

B. Hard Repression

Examples from Nigeria and Russia below illustrate how the shift from soft to hard repression leads to unpopular international attention, and why states would, therefore, gain from limiting actions within the confines of soft repression. Despite both countries signing onto human rights conventions,122 both Nigeria and Russia passed laws to limit activism on the ground by human rights organizations.123 In Russia, organizations had to register with the state to receive foreign funds, and in Nigeria restrictions were placed on the type of work done by human rights NGOs. In both cases, when the states mobilized resources to apply these restrictions, little international attention was gained. Nonetheless, despite the states' efforts to curtail activism, support for human rights concerns, and particularly those tied to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights, continued to increase.124 In order to counter the increased activism, both states instituted laws that banned non-traditional (in Russia) and gay (in Nigeria) sexual relations, while simultaneously counterframing LGBTI rights according to nationalist agendas. For example, in Russia, the state claimed the law would protect Russian tradition and the Russian Orthodox Church from Western liberalism, and in Nigeria, the spokesperson for President Goodluck Jonathon stated that "the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people."125

Unlike the laws that limited NGO resources (and, therefore, voices), these new laws legitimated the use of hard oppression, and LGBTI individuals and activists were rounded up and arrested. However, once hard repression was legitimated and used, both countries attracted international attention, resulting in pressure to amend their actions.126 These examples demonstrate, first, how soft repression through the mechanisms of mobilizing state resources and counterframing was used to limit activist pressure, and, second, how soft repression often escapes international attention, while hard [End Page 960] repression frequently draws international attention. State implementation of soft repression therefore becomes increasingly significant as it is used to thwart campaigns of local and transnational activism.


Relying on soft repression is useful to states—particularly hybrid states—in order to stall compliance to global agreements, while simultaneously avoiding international attention. Our study reveals the importance of understanding the process of soft repression by demonstrating how state actors may silence activists at the macro level through the mobilization of state resources and how they may draw on stigma to limit activists' mobilization tactics at the meso-level through the use of counterframing techniques—all with the aim of decoupling national laws from international agreements. There are no doubt other processes and mechanisms that could further contribute to our understanding. We hope future studies continue to engage the different processes and mechanisms contributing to states' non-compliance with international human rights treaties. [End Page 961]

Kathleen M. Fallon

Kathleen M. Fallon, Professor, Department of Sociology, Stony Brook University, studies political sociology, international development, and gender studies. Specifically, she focuses on women's social movements, women's rights, women's health, and democracy within sub-Saharan Africa, as well as across developing countries. She has done in-depth field research within Ghana, examining the influence of democratization on women's rights and the emergence of the women's movement. Through comparative analyses across developing countries, she has also researched topics tied to democratic transitions, women's political representation, women's activism, and maternity leave policies. She received her Ph.D. at Indiana University.

Anna-Liisa Aunio

Anna-Liisa Aunio, Department of Sociology, Dawson College; Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, Concordia University, studies political sociology, social movements, social and environmental policy, and NGOs. Her current work focuses on multilateral governance and policy in food systems. She received her Ph.D. at McGill University.

Jessica Kim

Jessica Kim, Department of Sociology, Stony Brook University, is a political sociologist studying issues of democratization, global norm diffusion, and public opinion. Her current work examines the emergence of democracy and democracy assistance as a global norm and its impact on governance.


1. We define weak states as those with relatively lower levels of state power and resources as compared to major powers; Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (1948); John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001).

2. Jackie Smith & Dawn Wiest, The Uneven Geography of Global Civil Society: National and Global Influences on Transnational Association, 84 Soc. Forces 621, 628 (2005).

3. Decoupling, in organizational theory, is defined as the gap between formal structures and activities within an organization; John W. Meyer & Brian Rowan, Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony, 83 Am. J. Soc. 340, 357 (1977). Following the application of this to international organizations and states in world polity theory, we define decoupling as the gap between nation-states' formal commitments to and participation in international agreements and their national policies related to these commitments. John W. Meyer, John Boli, George M. Thomas, & Francisco O. Ramirez, World Society and the Nation-State, 103 Am. J. Soc. 144, 154–55 (1997).

4. Abram Chayes & Antonia Handler Chayes, On Compliance, 47 Int'l Org. 175, 187–88, 193–94 (1993); Liam Swiss, Decoupling Values from Action: An Event-History Analysis of the Election of Women to Parliament in the Developing World, 1945–90, 50 Int'l J. Comp. Soc. 69, 70–71 (2009); Steven Levitsky & Maria Victoria Murillo, Variation in Institutional Strength, 12 Ann. Rev. Pol. Sci. 115, 120 (2009).

5. Emilie Hafner-Burton & Kiyoteru Tsutsui, Human Rights in a Globalizing World: The Paradox of Empty Promises, 110 Am. J. Soc. 1373, 1378 (2005).

6. Wade M. Cole & Francisco O. Ramirez, Conditional Decoupling: Assessing the Impact of National Human Rights Institutions, 1981 to 2004, 78 Am Soc. Rev. 702, 703–04 (2013); David John Frank, Tara Hardinge, & Kassia Wossick-Correa, The Global Dimensions of Rape-Law Reform: A Cross-National Study of Policy Outcomes, 74 Am Soc. Rev. 272 (2009).

7. Samuel P. Huntington, Democracy's Third Wave, 2 J. Democ. 12, 12–13 (1991).

8. Thomas Carothers, The End of the Transition Paradigm, 13 J. Democ. 5, 9–11 (2002).; Steven Levitsky & Lucan Way, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War (2010); Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad 96 (2003).

9. Carothers, supra note 8, at 9.

10. Myra Marx Ferree, Soft Repression: Ridicule, Stigma and Silencing in Gender-Based Movements, in Repression and Mobilization 138, 141 (Christian Davenport, Hank Johnston, & Carol Mueller eds., 2005).

11. Tahi Mottl defines countermovements as "a particular kind of protest movement which is a response to the social change advocated by an initial movement . . . a conscious, collective, organized attempt to resist or reverse social change." Tahi L. Mottl, The Analysis of Countermovements, 27 Soc. Prob. 620, 620 (1980).

12. We are not suggesting that soft repression only takes place in hybrid regimes. However, we suggest that hybrid regimes make the process of soft repression easier.

13. John Boli & George M.Thomas, World Culture in the World Polity: A Century of NonGovernmental Organization, 62 Am Soc. Rev. 171, 184 (1997); R. Charli Carpenter, Studying Issue (Non)-Adoption in Transnational Advocacy Networks, 61 Int'l Org. 643 (2007); Margaret E. Keck & Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics 2–3 (1998); Rachael S. Pierotti, Increasing Rejection of Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence of Global Cultural Diffusion, 78 Am Soc. Rev. 240, 245 (2013).

14. Martha Finnemore & Kathryn Sikkink, International Norm Dynamics and Political Change, 52 Int'l Org. 887 (1998); Keck & Sikkink, supra note 13; Thomas Risse, Steve C. Ropp, & Kathryn Sikkink, The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (1999); Sidney G. Tarrow, Strangers at the Gates: Movements and States in Contentious Politics (2012); Sidney Tarrow & Doug McAdam, Scale Shift in Transnational Contention, in Transnational Protest and Global Activism 121, 146 (Donatella della Porta & Sidney Tarrow eds., 2005).

15. When norms are a poor ft, norm entrepreneurs engage in localization to achieve a "cultural match" between ideal global norms and on the ground realities, Amitav Acharya, How Ideas Spread: Whose Norms Matter? Norm Localization and Institutional Change in Asian Regionalism, 58 Int'l Org. 239, 244 (2004); Lisbeth Zimmermann, Same Same or Different? Norm Diffusion Between Resistance, Compliance, and Localization in Post-conflict States, 17 Int'l Stud. Perspec. 98, 100–102 (2016); Keck & Sikkink, supra note 13, at 201; Jeffrey T. Checkel, Norms, Institutions, and National Identity in Contemporary Europe, 43 Int'l Stud. 83, 84 (1999); Andrew P. Cortell & James W. Davis, Jr.,Understanding the Domestic Impact of International Norms: A Resesarch Agenda, 40 Int'l Stud. Rev. 65, 66–68 (2000).

16. Physical, but not civil or political rights practices, are improved by human rights institutions; Cole & Ramirez, supra note 6, at 703.

17. Daniel W. Hill, Jr., Estimating the Effects of Human Rights Treaties on State Behavior, 72 J. Pol. 1161, 1161 (2010), ratification of the Convention Against Torture and International Convention on Civil and Political Rights are associated with increased levels of repression, whereas ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women renders positive outcomes.

18. Wade M.Cole, Human Rights as Myth and Ceremony? Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Human Rights Treaties, 1981–2007, 117 Am. J. Soc. 1131, 1137 (2012). States that agree to the complaint mechanisms allowing them to report human rights abuses are less likely to experience decoupling.

19. Rob Clark, Technical and Institutional States: Loose Coupling in the Human Rights Sector of the World Polity, 51 Soc. Q. 65, 67 (2016).

20. Keck & Sikkink, supra note 13; Meyer et al., supra note 3, at 54; Tarrow, Strangers at the Gates, supra note 14.

21. Jason Beckfield, Inequality in the World Polity: The Structure of International Organization, 68 Am. Soc. Rev. 401, 401–02 (2003).

22. Meyer et al., supra note 3, at 155; John W. Meyer, World Society, Institutional Theories, and the Actor, 36 Ann. Rev. Soc. 1, 13–14 (2010).

23. Meyer et al., supra note 3, at. 154

24. Eric Neumayer, Do International Human Rights Treaties Improve Respect for Human Rights? 49 J. Conflict Res. 925, 941 (2005); Beth A. Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (2009).

25. Risse, Ropp, & Sikkink, supra note 14.

26. Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, Kiyoteru Tsutsui, & John W. Meyer, International Human Rights Law and the Politics of Legitimation, 23 Int'l Soc. 115, 117 (2008); Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, Forum Shopping for Human Rights: Who Chooses Preferential Trade? 4 (2004), Paper presented at Workshop on Forum Shopping and Global Governance at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy; Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, Trading Human Rights: How Preferential Trade Agreements Influence Government Repression, 59 Int'l Org. 593, 604–06 (2005).

27. Zimmermann, supra note 15, at 111

28. Frank, Hardinge, & Wossick-Corea, supra note 6; Smith & Wiest, supra note 2; Jackie Smith & Dawn Wiest, Social Movements in the World-System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation (2012).

29. Nicolas van de Walle, Presidentialism and Clientelism in Africa's Emerging Party Systems, 41 J. Mod. Afr. Stud. 297, 309–10 (2003).

30. Alina Rocha Menocal, Verena Fritz, & Lise Rakner, Hybrid Regimes and the Challenges of Deepening and Sustaining Democracy in Developing Countries, 15 S. Afr. J. Int'l Aff. 29 (2008).

31. J.P. Nettl, The State as a Conceptual Variable, 20 World Pol. 559 (1968); Thomas Risse-Kappen, Bringing Transnational Relations Back In: Non-State Actors, Domestic Structures, and International Institutions 3 (Thomas Risse-Kappen ed., 1995); Max Weber, Economy and Society, Volume 2 (1978).

32. Jennifer Earl, Tanks, Tear Gas, and Taxes: Toward a Theory of Movement Repression, 21 Soc. Theory 44, 44 (2003); Jennifer Earl, Sarah A. Soule, & John D. McCarthy, Protest Under Fire? Explaining the Policing of Protest, 68 Am. J. Soc. 581 (2003); Keck & Sikkink, supra note 13, at ??.

33. Clifford Bob, Marketing Rebellion: Insurgent Groups, International Media, and NGO Support, 38 Int'l Politics 311 (2001); Emilie M. Hafner-Burton & Kiyoteru Tsutsui, Human Rights in a Globalizing World: The Paradox of Empty Promises, 110 Am. J. Soc. 1373, 1385 (2005); Risse, Ropp, & Sikkink, supra note 14.

34. Michael Mann notes that social power originates from four distinct conceptual domains—military, economic, political and ideological—all of which the state may employ to exercise authority and sovereignty; Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power: Vol. 2, The Rise of Classes and Nation-States, 1760–1914, at 1 (1986).

35. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics 5 (2004); Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Public Diplomacy and Soft Power, 616 Ann. Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 94, 94–95 (2008).

36. Id. at 2.

37. Ferree, supra note 10, at 141.

38. Id.

39. Ferree, supra note 10, at 141–46

40. Lasse Lindekilde, Soft Repression and Mobilization: The Case of Transnational Activism of Danish Muslims During the Cartoon Controversy, 42 Int'l J. Middle East Stud. 451, 463 (2010).

41. Oscar Jose Martin Garcia, Soft Repression and the Current Wave of Social Mobilisations in Spain, 13 Soc. Movements Stud. 303, 304–06 (2014).

42. David Hess & Brian Martin, Repression, Backfire, and the Theory of Transformative Events, 11 Mobilization 249 (2006).

43. Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Stigma Management in International Relations: Transgressive Identities, Norms and Order in International Society, 68 Int'l Org. 143 (2014).

44. David S. Meyer & Suzanne Staggenborg, Movements, Countermovements, and the Structure of Political Opportunity, 101 Am. J. Soc. 1628 (1996); Mottl, supra note 11; although previous scholars have laid out the mechanisms of state repression, none suggest a broad theoretical frame of soft repression. For example, Jules Boykoff identifies tactics of repression such as resource depletion, stigmatization, divisive disruption, and intimidation, and Earl highlights coercion vs. channeling. Yet these authors do not acknowledge the utility of these mechanisms in differentiating situations nor do they point to the process of soft repression, specifically. Studies that do examine soft repression specifically tend to focus on mechanisms that are time or place specific (see Carley and Cunningham), and only focus on domestic as opposed to transnationally motivated activism. See Jules Boykoff, Limiting Dissent: The Mechanisms of State Repression in the USA, 6 Soc. Movement Stud.: J. Soc., Cultural & Pol. Protest 281 (2007); Earl, Tanks, Tear Gas, and Taxes, supra note 32; Michael Carley, Defining Forms of Successful State Repression of Social Movement Organizations: A Case Study of the FBI's COINTELPRO and the American Indian Movement, 20 Res. Soc. Move., Conflict & Change 151 (1997); David Cunningham, State Versus Social Movement: FBI Counterintelligence Against the New Left, in States, Parties, and Social Movements 45 (Jack A. Goldstone ed., 2003).

45. Jo Freeman, Resource Mobilization and Strategy: A Model for Analyzing Social Movement Organizations, in The Dynamics of Social Movements: Resource Mobilization, Social Control, and Tactics 170 (Mayer N. Zald & John D. McCarthy eds., 1979).

46. John D. McCarthy, & Meyer N. Zald, Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory, 8 Am. J. Soc. 1212, 1216–17 (1977); Charles Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution (1978).

47. Jennifer Earl, Introduction: Repression and the Social Control of Protest, 11 MobiliZation 129, 136 (2006); Jenny Irons, Who Rules the Social Control of Protest? Variability in the State-Countermovement Relationship, 11 Mobilization 165, 166 (2006).

48. David S. Meyer, Political Opportunity Structure and Nested Institutions, 2 Soc. Movement Stud. 17, 18 (2003).

49. Irons, supra note 46; Mayer N. Zald & Bert Useem, Movement and Countermovement Interaction, in Social Movements in an Organizational Society 247 (Mayer N. Zald & John D. McCarthy eds. 1987).

50. Michael Schudson & Silvio Waisbord, Political Sociology of the News Media, in The Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization 350, 353 (Thomas Janoski, Robert R. Alford, Alexander M. Hicks, & Mildred A. Schwartz eds., 2005).

51. Robert D. Benford & David A. Snow, Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment, 26 Ann. Rev. Soc. 611, 614 (2000).

52. Sydney Tarrow, The New Transnational Activism 60 (2005); Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice (2006).

53. Robert D. Benford & Scott A. Hunt, Interactional Dynamics in Public Problems Marketplaces: Movements and the Counterframing and Reframing of Public Problems, in Challenges and Choices: Constructionist Perspectives on Social Problems 153, 160 (James A. Holstein & Gale Miller eds., 2003).

54. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left 8,9 (1980); T. Camber Warren, Not by the Sword Alone: Soft Power, Mass Media, and the Production of State Sovereignty, 68 Int'l Org. 111, 112 (2014).

55. Boykoff, supra note 44; Jackie Smith, John D. McCarthy, Clark M. McPhail & Boguslaw Augustyn, From Protest to Agenda Building: Description Bias in Media Coverage of Protest Events in Washington, D.C., 79 Soc. Forces 1397 (2001).

56. Alex Thomson, An Introduction to African Politics 17 (2010).

57. Id.

58. H. Kwasi Prempeh, Presidential Power in Comparative Perspective: The Puzzling Persistence of Imperial Presidency in Post-Authoritarian Africa, 35 Hastings Const. L. Q. 796, 784 (2008);

59. Id. at 796; Robert H. Jackson & Carl G. Rosberg, Personal Rule in Black Africa: Prince, Autocrat, Prophet, Tyrant 23–26 (1982).

60. Michael Bratton & Nicolas van de Walle, Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective 113 (1997).

61. David T. Butleritchie, The Confines of Modern Constitutionalism, 3 Pierce l. rev. 1 (2004).

62. Daniel N. Posner & Daniel J. Young, The Institutionalization of Political Power in Africa, 18 J. Democ. 126, 129–30 (2007).

63. Prempeh, supra note 59, at 812; Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of Ghana structured the constitution prior to holding the first multiparty election in 1992 (the first multiparty elections held in over a decade). He was declared president in elections deemed unfair by international observers. He was later re-elected in 1996 in what were considered free and fair elections.

64. Richard A. Joseph, Africa: States in Crisis, 14 J. Democ. 159, 165 (2003).

65. Larry Jay Diamond, Thinking About Hybrid Regimes, 13 J. Democ. 21, 32 (2002).

66. Henry L. Bretton, The Rise and Fall of Kwame Nkrumah: A Study in Personal Rule in Africa 97 (1966).

67. Yakubu Saaka, Recurrent Themes in Ghanaian Politics: Kwame Nkrumah's Legacy, 24 J. Black Stud. 263 (1994).

68. Political Transitions in Dominant Party Systems: Learning to Lose 78–79 (Joseph Wong & Edward Friedman eds., 2008); Ghana Centre for Democratic Development, Parliament: is it a Victim of Constitutional Design or Self-Sabotage, 6 Democ. Watch 9 (2005).

69. Wong & Friedman, supra note 65, at 79.

70. Turning Points in African Democracy 58 (Abdul Raufu Mustapha & Lindsay Whitfield eds., 2009).

71. Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2002 (2002), available at; the evolution, negotiation and the passage of the domestic violence bill in Ghana took place between 1995 and 2007.

72. Jennifer Hasty, The Press and Political Culture in Ghana 2 (2005).

73. Id. at 73.

74. Takyiwaa Manuh, Women, State and Society under the PNDC, in Ghana Under PNDC Rule 177, 185–91 (E. Gyimah-Boadi ed., 1993); Edzodzinam Tsikata, Women's Political Organisations 1951–1987, in The State Development and Politics in Ghana 73, 85–87 (Emmanuel Hansen & Kwame A. Ninsin eds., 1989).

75. Kathleen M. Fallon, Democracy and the Rise of Women's Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa (2008).; Dzodzi Tsikata, Women's Organizing in Ghana since the 1990s: From Individual Organizations to Three Coalitions, 52 Development 185, 188 (2009).

76. Kathy Cusack, Introduction, in Breaking the Silence and Challenging the Myths of Violence Against Women and Children in Ghana: Report of a National Study on Violence 7, 8 (Dorcas Coker Appiah & Kathy Cusack eds., 1999).

77. Nitza Berkovitch & Karen Bradley, The Globalization of Women's Status: Consensus/Dissensus in the World Polity, 42 Soc. Perspectives 481, 484 (1999); Keck & Sikkink, supra note 13 at 166; Karen B. Thompson, Women's Rights are Human Rights, in Restructuring World Politics: Transnational Social Movements, Networks and Norms 96 (Sanjeev Khagram, James V. Riker, & Kathryn Sikkink 2002).

78. Naana Agyemang-Mensah, Impact and Opportunities: The Benefits of Beijing, in Maintaining the Momentum of Beijing: The Contribution of African Gender NGOs 23 (Nana Araba Apt, Naana Agyemang-Mensah, & Margaret Grieco eds., 1998).

79. Thompson, supra note 77.

80. Elom Dovlo, Religion in the Public Sphere: Challenges and Opportunities in Ghanaian Lawmaking, 1989–2004, 629 Brigham Young Univ. L. Rev. 625, 652 (2005).

81. Fallon, supra note 75, at 1.

82. Sam Sarpong, Let's Strive to Flush out Domestic Violence, News from Africa, n. d., available at

83. Ghana Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29).

84. Although the reasons for halting the Marital Rape Bill are not clear, members provided two theories. First, they stated that politicians did not want to develop a bill in an election year, the year it was stopped. Second, one member indicated that a male member of government ordered that the Bill be terminated as he, and others, would not support such a bill.

85. Draft of Domestic Violence Bill, Domestic Violence Act 2003, ¶1 (ii) (on file with author).

86. FIDA has recorded documents at 2000, and the Attorney General has documents at 2001, Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Collective Activism: The Domestic Violence Bill Becoming Law in Ghana, 7 Afr. & Asian Stud. 395, 409 (2008). Activists believe the dates at the Attorney General were altered to fit their story line.

87. Ghana: Asmah Suggests Alternative to Marital Rape, Public Agenda, 2 June 2003, available at

88. Id.

89. Id.

90. He moved Minister Asmah to the Ministry of Fisheries.

91. Interview with Anonymous 1, Accra, Ghana (25 July 2006).

92. See also Saida Hodžić, Unsettling Power: Domestic Violence, Gender Politics, and Struggles over Sovereignty in Ghana, 74 Ethnos 331 (2009). Hodžić demonstrates how the state coops culture to their legal advantage.

93. This is most likely due to presidential elections, with President Kufour concerned about re-election. Newspaper articles indicate that some male parliamentarians, traditional male rulers (Chiefs), and men in general were against the bill. Nonetheless, the tactics used demonstrate how state resources can delay moving a bill to parliament.

94. Civil Society Orgs. Discuss Domestic Violence Bill, Modern Ghana, 12 May 2004, available at

95. Outside of the articles listed, there were three that addressed domestic violence or the need for a bill before Minister Asmah mentioned the bill. There were also an additional twenty-three articles that addressed the DV Bill after she stepped down. The latter is addressed later in the paper.

96. Isabella Gyau Orhin, Ghana: Domestic Violence Bill Under Siege, Public Agenda, 19 Nov. 2004, available at

97. Othello B. Garblah & Constanze Haase, Ghana: Gladys Asmah Dismisses Gender Activists' Fears, The Ghanaian Chronicle, 2 Apr. 2004, available at; in contrast, the articles representing activists' views were published as a reaction to definitions of "marital rape," or formed in response to statements made by the Minister.

98. Interview with Anonymous 2, Accra, Ghana (13 Dec. 2004)

99. Interview with Anonymous 3, Accra, Ghana (14 Dec. 2004).

100. Martin Luther Otu, Ghana: Gov't/Coalition Clash Over DV Bill, Public Agenda, 5 Apr. 2004, available at

101. Id.

102. This was observed in online newspapers before her presentation at the FIDA workshop in 2003. This is also in-line with the earlier position the state took before the counter-framing began.

103. Ghana: Coalition Reacts to Minister's Position On the Domestic Violence Bill, Public Agenda, 22 Nov. 2004, available at; this perspective was reinforced when the second in command at the Ministry referred to members of the DV Coalition as small girls, during a meeting with the first author.

104. Amos Safo, Ghana: Minister Throws Last Punch, Public Agenda, 21 Jan. 2005, available at

105. Of the thirty-five articles, eleven of these articles were neutral—presenting both sides, or speaking about the content of the DV Bill. Once Minister Asmah stepped down, state perspective articles decreased, though, still focused on marital rape. Three articles, not included in the 35, are articles discussing the importance of addressing domestic violence or implementing a domestic violence bill before Minister Asmah first mentioned the bill.

106. Interview with Anonymous 4, Accra, Ghana 14 Dec. 2004.

107. Ghana: Coalition Reacts to Minister's Position, supra note 103.

108. Ghana: Domestic Violence Bill Not an Imposition but Wise, The Ghanaian Chronicle, 29 Nov. 2004, available at

109. Isabella Gyau Orhin, Ghana @ 50: The Case of the Domestic Violence Law, Public Agenda, 26 Feb. 2007, available at

110. Ghana: "Sexual Abuse" Not the Same as "Marital Rape," The Accra Daily Mail, 13 Apr. 2004, available at

111. Orhin, Ghana: Domestic Violence Bill Under Siege, supra note 109.

112. Ghana: Coalition Reacts to Minister's Position, supra note 103.

113. Id.

114. Kendra Dupuy, James Ron, & Aseem Prakash, Reclaiming Political Terrain: The Regulatory Crackdown on Overseas Funding for NGOs 1, Unpublished Paper (2013).

115. Ashley Currier & Joëlle M. Cruz, Civil Society and Sexual Struggles in Africa, in The Handbook of Civil Society in Africa 337, 344 (Ebenezer Obadare ed., 2014).

116. Tom Odhiambo, Ignorance, Male Chauvinism Block Sexual Offences Bill, Zimbabwe Standard, 4 June 2006, available at

117. Botswana: HIV/Aids Policy: Shall It Absorb Marginalised Groups?, Mmegi Reporter, 31 July 2012, available at

118. Linda Semu, Kamuzu's Mbumba: Malawi Women's Embeddedness to Culture in the Face of International Political Pressure and Internal Legal Change, 49 Afr. Stud. 77, 93 (2002).

119. Jeff Neumann, Violence Against Women in Lebanon: A Debate That's Not Going Away, Middle East Voices 13 Jan. 2012 (on file with authors).

120. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa: Local-Global Challenges in the 21st Century. in Feminist Politics, Activism and Vision: Local and Global Challenges 100, 111 (Luciana Ricciutelli, Angela Miles, & Margaret H. McFadden eds., 2004).

121. Nighat Said Khan, Up Against the State: The Women's Movement in Pakistan and its Implications for the Global Women's Movement, in Feminist Politics, Activism and Vision, supra note 120, at 86, 87.

122. Nigeria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Political Rights in 1993, and the Russian Federation did so in in 1973 and 1969 respectively. Nigeria has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights in 1983 and its protocol in 2004, and Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998.

123. Dupuy, Ron, & Prakesh, supra note 114, at 335.

124. Phil Hazelwood, Nigeria's Gay Marriage, Union Ban "Legalizes" Homophobic Violence, Activists Say, Agence France Press, 14 Jan. 2014, available at

125. Nigeria Passes Law Against Gay Relationships, Aljazeera, 13 Jan. 2014, available at; Russian Anti-Gay Bill Passes, Protesters Detained, CBS News, 11 June 2013, available at

126. Reports of Arrests and Torture Under Nigeria's Anti-Gay Law, All Things Considered, NPR, 15 Jan. 2014, available at; Protests Over Russian Anti-Gay Law Focus on Sochi, AP, 31 Jan. 2014, available at

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