Denise Walsh, Ph.D.

University of Virginia

Phone: 4342421405

Address: 1540 Jefferson Park Avenue, Gibson Hall

City: Charlottesville, Virginia - 22901

Country: United States

About Me:

I am an Associate Professor of Politics and Women, Gender & Sexuality and a founding co-director of the Power, Violence and Inequality Collective at the University of Virginia. I study women's rights in liberal democracies and have published or am doing research on the following countries: South Africa, Poland, Chile, France and Canada. My current book project is on multiculturalism and women's rights, including the face veil ban in France that was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, polygamy in South Africa, and the expulsion of indigenous women from their tribe in Canada for marrying non-native men. I also am a co-founder of The Backlash Project, which investigates opposition to women in politics and gender justice advocates. My first book, Women's Rights in Democratizing States, finds that democratic institutions like political parties and social movements often obstruct advances to women's rights during transitions to democracy. My research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Italy, the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and many organizations at the University of Virginia. I teach courses on human rights, feminist theory, gender politics in the global South, and gender-based violence.   

Research Interests

Gender and Politics

Human Rights

Comparative Democratization

Political Participation


Political Theory

Comparative Political Institutions

Women's Rights



Democratization And Authoritarianism

Democratic Theory


Countries of Interest

South Africa



My Research:

My research investigates how liberal democracies can become more inclusive and just. My current book project, The Politics of Culture and Women's Rights in Liberal Democracies, finds that culture and women's rights are not naturally at odds. Instead, many politicians in liberal democracies put the two in conflict to justify domination over women members of minority groups, either by perpetuating patriarchy or White supremacy. In contrast, those who forge relations of agreement between culture and women's rights aim to redress both forms of domination. This finding emerges through a comparison of three diverse cases:polygamy in South Africa, the expulsion of indigenous women from the tribe for marrying non-native men in Canada, and the French face veil ban as adjudicated by the European Court of Human Rights. My second current research project addresses contemporary backlash against women in politics and gender justice advocates. One team I am working with is evaluating the existing literature to identify what we know about backlash sites, perpetratros, behaviors and targets.  The other team is forging a multidsciplinary backlash research agenda that will be developed through conference presentations and publications. In 2017 I completed a National Science Foundation grant to develop strategies for diversifying and addressing bias in political science and law and the social sciences. This grant resulted in several publications and journal symposia. My first book, Women's Rights in Democratizing States, explains why democratization in Poland,Chile, and South Africa produced divergent outcomes on women's rights and the obstacles that democractic institutions present to women's participation. I also have published on quotas, party dominance, and citizenship in South Africa.


Books Written:

(2010) Women’s Rights in Democratizing States: Just Debate and Gender Justice in the Public Sphere, Cambridge University Press

This study offers a new explanation for why advances in women's rights rarely occur in democratizing states. Drawing on deliberative theory, the book argues that the leading institutions in the public sphere are highly gendered, meaning women's ability to shape the content of public debate and put pressure on the state to advance their rights is limited. The book tests this claim by measuring the openness and inclusiveness of debate conditions in the public sphere during select time periods in Poland, Chile, and South Africa. Through a seris of structured, focused comparisons, the book confirms the importance of just debate for advancing gender justice. The comparisons also reveal that counterpublics in the leading institutions in the public sphere are crucial for improving debate conditions. The book concludes with an analysis of couterpublics and suggests an active role for the state in the public sphere.

Media Appearances:

TV Appearances:

(2013) NBC 29

Interview on the repercussions of the legalization of women in combat. A second, in-depth interview by the UVA Women's Center is linked below.