Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Lorraine Bayard de Volo

Second Advisor

David S.. Brown

Third Advisor

Susan E. Clarke

Fourth Advisor

Amy Liu

Fifth Advisor

Fancy S. Milner


Prominent development agencies, including the World Bank and the United Nations, agree gender equality and women’s political empowerment is central to achieving positive social and economic outcomes. To politically empower women in the developing world, international aid has increasingly turned to decentralized, bottom-up approaches. Consequently, the past twenty years have witnessed a “boom” in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) specializing in gender policy assessment, project execution, and social services delivery. Though proponents of bottom-up approaches suggest organizational involvement will empower women to act politically, neither research on women’s political participation nor on the political effects of NGOs has empirically validated this assumption. Thus, it is still unclear whether, or how, women’s collective organizing empowers women to act politically both within and outside of formal institutional channels. This project employs a mixed methods approach that combines case studies, participant observation and informal interview techniques with survey data to analyze and explain the relationship between women’s organizations and women’s political empowerment in the Guatemalan context. I conclude from these analyses that women’s organizations in democratizing states generally, and in Guatemala specifically, do empower women to participate politically, but the effects across institutional and non-institutional acts differ. In democratizing states where institutions are weak and neoliberal reforms and international women’s movements support women’s organizing outside of institutional politics, women’s organizations are most likely to empower members to exercise political agency via non-institutional political action. While women’s organizational experiences tend to reinforce members’ negative perceptions of institutional politics, organizations empower women to act politically by enhancing individual motivations, capacities, and opportunities for non-institutional political participation.