The Relationship Between Competitive Authoritarian Regimes and Violence Against Women

The end of the Cold War and the transition of the global system from a bipolar to a multipolar one led to the emergence of new social phenomena and has opened various new paths for conducting research in social sciences. New forms of social phenomena brought out the emergence of new regime types and one of them is a new form of authoritarianism, competitive
authoritarianism, where formal democratic institutions and elections are observed but also fraud, violations of civil liberties, and abuse of state and media surfaced as a new regime type (Levitsky & Way, 2010, p.53). In states that are within transition to new regime types, individuals who are vulnerable to the externalities that arise due to the institutional and systemic changes in social structures could be influenced the most. One of the most concerning and understudied proportions of those individuals are women who suffer from gender-based violence.

It is the interest of this research to shed light on the relationship between the two phenomena, competitive-authoritarianism and violence against women. The question that is intended to be answered is whether there exists any relationship between them. To make meaningful connections between competitive authoritarianism and violence against women, it is essential to define concepts that are operationalizable and conceptual frameworks that lay out the characteristics of the two concepts. This research’s intellectual reasoning lies in an understanding that observing violence against women does not necessarily rely on its direct encouragement but the lack of preventive measures and deterrent factors that are needed to decrease its observance. Therefore, understanding the value and norm patterns embedded in state institutions, societies, and government within states has lead this study to link competitive authoritarianism to violence against women. In order to conduct in-depth research, this study is limited to 3 case studies that focus on Hungary, Serbia, and Turkey. By analyzing data provided by national agencies, international organizations, and independent research institutes, this research looks for a relationship between the two concepts.

This study consists of seven sections. In Section 2, a comprehensive literature review on both competitive authoritarianism and violence against women is presented. The third section shows the methodology of this research followed by a conceptual analysis which aims to connect the statistical work with a theoretical basis in relation to the case countries in Section 4. In Section 5, data used for the statistical analysis and the findings are discussed. Lastly,

Section 6 presents an extensive discussion on indicators of liberal democracy, the concept of masculinist restoration and Istanbul Convention as a bridge to connect the findings with further theoretical discussion followed by the conclusion section which summarizes this research.


As this research aims to unveil competitive authoritarian regimes’ characteristics and highlight their connection to gender-based violence, we have implemented a literature analysis which follows the order of understanding the emergence of competitive authoritarianism firstly, then examining the characteristics of authoritarian regimes on the whole concerning state policies and finally combining the concept of competitive authoritarianism and violence against women.

The consensus in the literature about competitive authoritarianism as a new regime type is that its emergence dates back to the early post-Cold War era (Bieber 2018; Castaldo 2020; Carothers 2002; Levitsky & Way, 2010). Levitsky and Way (2002) suggest that the factor of international pressure caused by the unchallenged hegemony of western liberalism paved the way for authoritarian-leaning regimes to adopt democratic institutions to prevent isolation together with authoritarian measures such as media control and abuse of the state. Nevertheless, there exists a challenge to this claim put forward by Castaldo (2020), who suggests international pressure does not influence the governance methods of competitive authoritarian regimes. Our choice of relevant explanation for this emergence is not based on a democratic bias that assumes hybrid-regimes are regimes in the transition to democracy, in line with the arguments of Carothers (2002) and Levitsky and Way (2010). This indicates abandoning an approach which assumes transitionary regimes to move only from authoritarian to democratic regimes. Instead a bidirectional approach which would indicate the possibility of either a move towards authoritarianism or democracy is embraced. The current literature affirms the continuation of the competitive authoritarianism phenomena but highlights a change in its nature. Whereas Bieber (2018, p.343) points out the recent move away from ideological foundations of competitive authoritarianism as in the 1990s and outlines “strategic use of ideology, external legitimacy, crisis management, re-establishment of a loyal media and state capture” as new mechanisms to maintain this type of regime; Levitsky and Way (2020, p.52) explain the “persistence of competitive authoritarianism” by international factors such as the deterioration of leverage and linkage of the global west. In light of the aforementioned arguments and the literature on competitive authoritarianism, the standard definition of a contemporary competitive authoritarian regime is as follows: the existence of multi-party elections with national rhetoric and “the privatization of the state to affiliated business interests” (Bieber, 2018, p.337).

In understanding how authoritarianism functions, this research focuses on three specific examples, Hungary (Bogaards, 2018; Tok, 2018), Serbia (Keil, 2018; Vladisavljević, 2014) and Turkey (Castaldo, 2018; Esen & Gumuscu, 2016). Both case-oriented studies such as these and articles that generally focus on authoritarianism reflect how competitive authoritarianism could be examined. The literature on authoritarian regimes’ characteristics has provided these academic research materials to understand the social implications of these regimes. What has been extracted as a relevant concept from the literature is authoritarian regimes’ relation to civil society and anti-governmental organizations (Spasic, 2003; Vladisavljević, 2014). Spasic (2003) and Vladisavljević (2014) suggest the interdependent relation between democracy and civil society, how one depends on the other, and why civil society could barely exist within a competitive authoritarian regime, and how competitive authoritarian regimes are suitable environments for meaningful protests respectively.

The main aim of this research is to reveal the linkage between authoritarian values and gender-based violence in light of prior studies that had set their caution on gender & politics (Donno & Russett, 2004; Fábián, 2009; Ökten, 2017; Sarvasy & Haney, 2003). The literature suggests that patriarchy and patriarchal societal order have a connection with the observance of violence against women, and understanding authoritarianism without the inclusion of gender and sexuality would create an intellectual gap (Grewal, 2020; Walker, Rowe, & Quinsey, 1993). We estimate that governing types and everyday politics have an essential impact on domestic social norms (Turanjanin et al., 2017) and the discussions within the literature that suggest authoritarian regimes’ use of policies of women are a legitimization tool (Grewal, 2020; Lorch & Bunk 2016; Salhi, 2010; Tripp, 2013) imply how women’s position in society become further oppressed and limited due to these “women-friendly” policies and rhetoric since they have the underlying political motivations that are unrelated from women’s emancipation (Lorch & Bunk, 2016). The concept of “masculinist restoration” proposed by Deniz Kandiyoti presents an important link between violence against women and authoritarianism by proposing a link between the changing nature of societies and a change in patriarchal relations and why gender based violence is observed (1998; 2007; 2016; 2019; 2020).

In conclusion, the literature on authoritarianism, competitive authoritarianism, and violence against women suggests a subtle manifestation of these concepts’ theoretical correlation. After this literature review, what is known and identifiable is that the relationship between civil society and authoritarianism and violence against women with the former is a vital linkage that requires in-depth research. The literature demonstrates an association between patriarchy and violence against women and patriarchy and authoritarianism. However, it lacks information on directly connecting gender-based violence with a specific regime type, competitive authoritarianism.


Our methodology to analyze the relationship between two main variables – democracy index and violence against women – is two-fold. Firstly, a time-period has been designated, a recent one because of the availability of data, then data of the aforementioned variables for the years chosen for as many countries as possible were searched. For Turkey, a correlation analysis of these variables has been done and their statistical significance has been analyzed. Using different datasets, the countries have been grouped into two types – democratic and non democratic- and the regressions were run to determine the relationship between the two variables. Moreover, we run regressions using interaction variables and dummies for the countries chosen for in-depth analysis. As a consequence, one of the important questions addressed in this paper was attempted to be answered: To what extent democracy indices explain the variation in violence against women?


The integration of theoretical concepts of competitive authoritarianism and violence against women within this research depends on the assumption that a decrease in democracy indices would show an upward trend in competitive authoritarianism that is identified. In addition to this factor, based on the literature review provided (Grewal, 2020; Kandiyoti, 2016; Ökten, 2017; Walker et al., 1993) an increase in authoritarian characteristics would increase the observance of violence in general. The increase in overall violence levels that encloses gender based violence within itself could be observed via femicide rates in the case studies. The intellectual line of thought on this study bases its explanation on theoretical relations, as presented in Figure 1 imply an understanding in which specific phenomena such as violence against women are linked to system-level characteristics and their implementation on micro level politics.

4.1. Hungary

Hungary has been a member state of European Union (EU) since 2004 (Sandoval, 2018, p.5). However, despite this membership it is claimed that Hungary has not provided enough assistance to support women who experienced violence priorly (Women against Violence Europe, 2019, p.88). After a period, thanks to the EU’s efforts on the elimination of violence against women inside especially European borders; EU had supported to member states on this issue, “services for women survivors of violence” had been initialized by the EU. However, violence against women is still national competence of each member state. On the other hand, official data collection which indicates the number of women who are victims of violence is still not systematic and not sufficient. Since there are a few women led non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) in Hungary, it could be claimed that the “gender blind” approach has been common until today under Orban’s governance (Women against Violence Europe, 2019, p.88).

After the 2010 national elections, Viktor Orban became one of the most influential figures in Hungarian politics as the leader of Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance Party. The party is highly criticized by the opposition in the Hungarian Parliament. Also, the parliament takes an opposing stance against the Orban leadership because of the authoritarian tendencies of the party’s politics (Bogaards, 2018, pp.1481-1485). In light of the literature review and qualitative scanning of data from different sources, it is hard to explain how to include Hungary in our statistical analysis. Because of the fact that transparency of media and press freedom in this chosen country are still questionable, moreover, accession to data from state officials’ sources like police records or ministries data had not been reached. On the other hand, the competitive authoritarian regime practices such as limited media and press freedom are fundamental obstacles that prevent awareness about domestic violence issues in Hungary. Moreover, no official statistical sources or reports were explicitly found about domestic violence in Hungary (Smolens, 2000-2001, pp.1-42). Since the transition to a hybrid regime from the Fidesz-KDNP era to Viktor Orban’s rule, there have been accusations of the government for violating the rule of law and constitutional rights and freedoms. Tightly controlled social groups, especially women and feminist activists, had been repressed by the oppressive regime.

4.2. Serbia

Serbia experienced competitive authoritarianism under Milosevic in the early post-Cold War era, and the Serbian society was able to overthrow the regime by a countrywide union and protests (Spasić, 2003). The Serbian case is unique because a series of serious demonstrations toppled the government down, possibly because Serbia’s competitive authoritarian regime was not authoritarian enough to control the protests and not democratic enough to deal with them peacefully (Vladisavljević, 2014). This example of authoritarian practice could be a vital characteristic of competitive authoritarianism that we can compare with other cases and determine potential similarities. What needs to be highlighted about Serbia’s competitive authoritarianism relies on the double transition that was experienced (Castaldo, 2020). From the Milosevic regime’s mild form of democracy, it has transitioned to a “defective democracy and then back to a moderate electoral autocracy” (Ibid, p.1618). These findings could point out that under the governance of Aleksandar Vučić, competitive authoritarianism is once again observed in Serbia (Ibid).

The transition back to competitive authoritarianism and the fundamental reasons behind it are crucial in understanding the necessary and sufficient conditions that bring out this regime type. For instance, Bieber argues that the current competitive authoritarian systems draw their legitimacy from the failure of reformist governments that were in power in the early 2000s (Bieber, 2018, p.337). Another possible argument is tracing this democratic backsliding to a lack of well-organized civil society since they were once suppressed harshly under Milosevic (Spasic, 2003). The increase in authoritarian regime practices suggested by the literature reverberates on the decrease of democracy index figures of Serbia (V-Dem, 2021). Figure 2 captures the decrease in democratic governance between 2010 and 2020 in relation to certain governance practices. Hence, it is our assumption that the existence of a competitive authoritarian regime could lay out an environment where violence against women could escalate. The data concerning violence against women in Serbia throughout the period where the transition back to authoritarianism was visible in democracy indices is the relevant framework for the statistical analysis for this case.

4.3. Turkey

The rise of competitive authoritarianism in Turkey dates to 2011. Authoritarian and conservative tendencies strengthen the patriarchy in Turkey (Yarar, 2020, p.122). Castaldo (2018) claims that Erdogan’s populism and promotion of political polarization contributed significantly to the rise of competitive authoritarianism. In the 2000’s, the first era of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) regime, the EU accession process contributed to democratization in Turkey (Ulusoy, 2010, p.13). It is safe to say that liberal reforms improved women’s rights in Turkey (Turkey’s New European Union Strategy, n.d., p.9). Yet, with the beginning of the second era, the authoritarian state had begun to gain power. Democratic backsliding and increasing authoritarianism paved the way for the violation of women’s rights. Civil liberties violations have become systemic under the JDP administration, which has not only established an unequal playing field but has also securitized dissent. More precisely, persecution of independent media, limits on freedom of political association and expression, and repression of opposition leaders or other government opponents have become commonplace in politics (Esen & Gumuscu, 2016).

Moreover, women’s bodies and sexualities had begun to be utilized within the conservative rhetoric (Cindoglu & Unal, 2016, pp.39-54). “Masculinist protection” of the government strengthened with the help of patriarchy in the society (Kandiyoti, 2016, pp.103-118). The contemporary political Islamist tendencies in Turkish governance (Donno & Russett, 2004, pp.582-607) suggest the disregard of domestic violence against women in private and public spheres (Kandiyoti, 2016, pp.103-118). Current developments in Turkey’s record of domestic violence could show a visible correlation between Turkey’s authoritarian characteristics of rule and domestic violence towards women. Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention on 20 March 2021 with a presidential decree illustrates the features of an authoritarian regime since this incident has the intellectual power to point out that not only public spheres of life are controlled, but also private spheres of women’s lives and their protection are significantly affected too.

Box 1. Challenges of data collection in authoritarian regimes
The methodological challenges and data collection in authoritarian regimes had been a problem for researchers. “These challenges include gaining access to government officials, conducting relational interviews, focus groups, and using Q method, ethical considerations, safety implications for participants and researchers, as well as publication dilemma” (Janenova, 2019).
Ariel I. Ahram and J. Paul Goode classify these challenges in three different parts in their article. The first challenge is called “Access and Timing”. “Authoritarian regimes may limit access outright by exercising their gatekeeping powers to deny visas to scholars conducting sensitive research” (Ahram & Goode, 2016). “A second, related, challenge concerns the availability and utility of data. Dictatorships, as Beatriz Magaloni (2006:236) writes, are notoriously “poor information environments” (Ahram & Goode, 2016). A third difficulty emerges in terms of the ethical problems that scholars researching authoritarian regimes face in balancing the need for concealed information with informant protection. One may argue that clandestine forms of research on authoritarian regimes are justified considering the lack of access that one would otherwise have (say, in regimes that protect human rights and academic freedoms). This is particularly true when regimes refuse access to the field in order to compel representations and interpretations of regime dynamics (Ahram & Goode, 2016).

The authoritarian state’s rigid political system necessitates a high level of reliance on official gatekeepers for researchers. Obtaining access to participants who serve government officials necessitates extensive planning, time, persistence, sending out official letters, and following up with numerous phone calls and emails. Gaining access does not guarantee high-quality data because the political regime places severe restrictions on what government officials are permitted to reveal. Even if officials consent to an interview, they will remain “silent” until they share an honest opinion. In a closed context, data, both quantitative and qualitative, are difficult to obtain and inaccurate, which can be solved by a triangulation of methods to cross-check data from different sources (Janenova, 2019).


5.1. Data

Several datasets were used when analyzing the relationship between the series of democracy indices and violence against women. First of all, democracy index data as a series for the countries chosen were taken from the EIU that publishes yearly reports of democracy indices for more than 160 countries which indicate that a high democracy index means a more democratic environment in a country (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020). Regarding Turkey, violence against women data was taken from “Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey,” a study carried out in 2014, which shows that 11% of women were exposed to physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partners year mentioned above (Republic of Turkey Ministry of Family and Social Policies & Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies, 2015). Since this datum is insufficient to reveal the correlation, the series of data for violence against women for 2008-2020 were estimated using the femicide dataset, which was taken from We Will Stop Femicides – a platform that collects femicide data using social media reports, news, etc., for Turkey (We Will Stop Femicide Platform, 2020). A plausible and core assumption when estimating violence against women data was that a constant portion of violence against women always results in femicides.

Data, which were used in the econometric analysis as Liberal Democracy Index, were extracted from the database of V-Dem, an organization that publishes varieties of democracy indices for many countries that are available for a long period of time. Regarding femicide reports, we have used the data from the statistical database of United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE Statistical Database, 2019).

5.2. Findings

The correlation coefficient for Turkey was based on 13 observations. The computed coefficient is -0.87, showing a very strong negative association between the democracy index and violence against women as a percentage for 2008-2020. The computed p-value using t-distribution with 11 degrees of freedom is less than 0.0002. Therefore, the correlation between the variables is statistically significant. This result is in accordance with our anticipation from this research: the rising trend of competitive authoritarianism in Turkey seems to be positively correlated with violence against women by their intimate partners.

Table 1.
Model 1 Coefficient P-value
CONSTANT 0.0035039 0 LDI -0.0027779 0.004 LOW * LDI -0.0021976 0.074 LOW 0.0008968 0.258
Number of Observations 467 R20.3003 Adjusted R20.2958

Furthermore, regarding the econometric analysis, the first regression covers as many countries as possible in Europe between 2000 and 2019. In the first model (Table 1), a regression is made on femicide as a percentage of women population on LDI (Liberal Democracy Index), LOW * LDI, and LOW, where LOW is a dummy that takes the value of 1 if the corresponding LDI is less than 0.5 and 0 otherwise. The base case is HIGH countries, where HIGH is a dummy that takes the value of 1 if the corresponding LDI is above 0.5 and 0 otherwise. The coefficient for LDI is negative and statistically significant. The interaction variable, namely LOW * LDI, has a negative coefficient and somewhat small P-value as well, indicating that having an LDI score less than 0.5 strengthens the effect of LDI on femicide as a percentage of the women population. This finding indicates that the effect of LDI on femicide as a percentage of female population is more severe in countries with low LDI scores compared to the ones with high LDI scores. This result is in line with the scope of our research.

In the second regression (Table 2), we use the data available for three countries within the same period mentioned above. The base case is chosen as Hungary. In this model, we regress femicide as a percentage of women population on LDI, TUR * LDI, SER * LDI, TUR, SER where TUR and SER are dummy variables for Turkey and Serbia, respectively. Since the base case is Hungary, the slope term for Hungary is positive. For Turkey and Serbia, however, the effect of LDI on femicide as a percentage of the women population is negative due to the magnitude and sign of the coefficients of corresponding interaction variables. The intercept terms are positive for all countries. The unexpected result regarding Hungary could possibly be attributed to the data hindrance of violence against women by the authorities despite the efforts of the press and women organizations to demand an access to the reliable and transparent data (Suchocka, et al., 2020, p.19).

Table 2.
Model 2 Coefficient P-value
CONSTANT 0.0003789 0.641 LDI 0.0014332 0.236 TUR * LDI -0.0024782 0.127 SER * LDI -0.002095 0.403 TUR 0.0034452 0
SER 0.0010949 0.38
Number of Observations 50 R20.7302 Adjusted R20.6995


According to the Liberal Democracy Index, Hungary, Serbia and Turkey are three of the ten countries where the steepest democratic backsliding has occurred between 2010 and 2020 (V Dem, 2021, p.21). The liberal democracy indicators such as government censorship effort on media, freedom of discussion for women, and access to justice for women are some of the significant indicators for increasingly authoritarian regimes around the globe (V-dem, 2021, p.21). These factors become crucial in analyzing violence against women. How government censorship effort on media affects the research ability of scholars when examining gender based violence is an important factor. The reluctance of governments in selected countries to share data on violence against women indicates a systemic barrier against research on and prevention of a social problem which is a criminal issue representing violation of basic human rights and freedoms (Turanjanin et al, 2017, p.82).

For Hungary, liberal democracy indicators demonstrate that access to justice for women has significantly declined (V-Dem, 2021, p.21). On the other hand, concealing of violence against women from public opinion by mass media, which oppressed by the Orban administration, reveals the government censorship efforts and its suppression on the media ownership (Suchocka, et al., 2020, p.19). In Serbia, access to justice for women could be one of the democracy indicators which could be discussed. Data on the number of criminal charges for offense of domestic violence show that less than 50% of male perpetrators are prosecuted and for the ones who are found guilty approximately 60% of their sentences are suspended (GREVIO, 2018, p.95). This points out that not only gender-based crimes are not fully criminalized, although engraved in domestic law (Turanjanin et al, 2017, p.85), but also, they are not fully brought to justice.

What is theoretically significant about these factors is that they present a pattern about the governance in these three case countries. This pattern is a change in value orientations in social and political spheres. This change which is attempted to be presented in this research constructs the relationship between competitive authoritarian regimes and the observed violence against women. Deniz Kandiyoti’s proposal of the concept “masculinist restoration” helps explain this relation. Masculinist restoration is an attempt to explain a break between traditional patriarchal hegemony and contemporary social structures (Kandiyoti, 1998, p.283; 2007, p.602; 2019, p.112). What this break demonstrates is patriarchy within post-Soviet states and Turkey not being secure anymore due to the empowerment of women (Ibid). Masculinist restoration is the coerced survival attempt of patriarchy by exposing itself as violence against women where female subordination is no longer securely hegemonic (Kandiyoti, 2019, p.109). The important characteristic of this phenomenon is that it does not indicate either a fully functioning patriarchy or a “resurgence of traditionalism” (Ibid). Therefore, the institutional regulations which partially function in support of women’s empowerment play a role in posing a threat to patriarchy and inciting violence.

“Masculinist restoration” is a concept and a powerful tool to bring together the phenomena of competitive authoritarianism with violence against women for this research because it is a concept which is observed under rising authoritarianisms (Kandiyoti, 2019, p. 39). A politics of systematic indoctrination of enforced ideas about family structures, greater surveillance, and high levels of intrusion into citizens’ lives help foster the masculinist restoration and the violence against women that comes out as its manifestation (Ibid). Lastly, masculinist restoration is argued to initiate new fields of contestation between anti-patriarchal resistors and “masculinist restorators” in which a close relationship between authoritarian rule and forms of oppression based on gender, creed, ethnicity, and sexual orientation is observed (Ibid). These oppression types sighted together are connected to the observance of violence in general as discussed in Section 4. In the case of Serbia, changes in value patterns between 2003-2018 indicate that there exists a prevalence of private patriarchy, yet a weakened one, and a support of general authoritarianism (Petrovic & Radoman, 2020, pp.411-413). What these findings suggest is that a threatened form of patriarchy is observed hand in hand with a rising support for authoritarianism within a society presenting a relation between an indicator of violence against women and competitive authoritarianism.









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