Mala Htun, associate professor, political science

Carnegie Corporation of New York announced the names of 32 Andrew Carnegie Fellows, a major new annual fellowship program that will provide support for scholars in the social sciences and humanities. University of New Mexico Associate Professor of Political Science Mala Htun is among the Andrew Carnegie Fellows.

Recipients receive up to $200,000 to allow them to devote between one and two years to research and writing.

UNM Distinguished Professor of History and Associate Provost for Faculty Development Virginia Scharff said, "When the President of the Carnegie Corporation invited UNM President Robert Frank to submit nominations for this prestigious fellowship, I was tasked with identifying UNM faculty members who might be strong candidates, supporting their applications and writing the nominating letter.  

"Professor Htun immediately came to mind. She is a world-class social scientist whose cutting-edge scholarship embodies a keen awareness of the human dimension of global problems, and the spirit of community engagement that we look to activate in everything we do. This great honor reflects the strength of our faculty in the social sciences and humanities."  

“I am thrilled to have been selected as a 2015 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. The opportunities provided by the fellowship will enable me to develop my research on the political economy of gender disadvantage, and further our understanding of how economic empowerment benefits women, their families and entire societies,” Htun said.

Mala Htun’s research
Htun’s prospectus is: “Gender Disadvantage, Women’s Economic Agency and Global Public Good.” Her research will explore the ways that laws and public policies shape women’s economic agency, and how economic empowerment affects gender relations and social norms.

Women’s lives changed dramatically in the 20th century. “Changes in women’s status have in turn benefitted the rest of society and international system,” she wrote in her proposal, noting that women’s work has fueled economic growth, education and reduced the “rapid and unsustainable population growth and improved child welfare.” And, she said, countries with gender equality suffer less violence in external and internal conflicts.

Yet, “gender disadvantage persists in many places, particularly in emerging democracies and less developed economies in the Global South,” where, if women work at all, they often do so in dangerous, sweatshop conditions or as domestic workers for little pay and no rights.

Htun posits that women’s economic empowerment offers a powerful mechanism of social change by enabling women to contest oppressive gender relations from the ground up. Economic empowerment includes access to resources via property ownership, control of land or employment.

She wrote, “Women who own property can exit from abusive relations, making them less susceptible to intimate partner violence. Women with opportunities in the labor force have more bargaining leverage at home, so men do a greater share of housework. When women control income-generating property, they also exert more control over institutions that influence gendered ideologies, such as educational establishments, the media and religious organizations. Women who control household money are more likely to spend it in ways that benefit children and society, such as on food, clothing, medicine and education.”

Yet many countries inhibit women’s access to work, own land, inherit, sign contracts and act autonomously in the public sphere.

Htun wrote, “The World Bank’s Women Business and the Law Group found that some 90 percent of countries maintain at least one legal restriction on women’s employment and entrepreneurship, while 25 of the 143 countries in the study had ten or more discriminatory laws.”

“My research will explore how family laws, labor codes and public policies shape women’s economic agency,” she said.

Mala Htun’s accomplishments
Htun is the author of Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Inclusion Without Representation: Gender Quotas and Ethnic Reservations in Latin America (forthcoming from Cambridge). Her work has appeared in American Political Science Review, Perspectives on Politics, Politics, Groups, and Identities, Latin American Research Review, Latin American Politics and Society, and Politics & Gender, among other journals and edited volumes.

She has held the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship in Japan, and was a fellow at the Kellogg Institute of the University of Notre Dame and the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard. Her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and National Security Education Program. She has served as a consultant to the World Bank, UN Women, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Inter-American Dialogue.

Htun holds a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard and an A.B. in international relations from Stanford, and is a graduate of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School.

Andrew Carnegie Fellows
The Andrew Carnegie Fellows are an exceptional group of established and emerging scholars, journalists and authors whose work distills knowledge, enriches our culture, and equips leaders in the realms of science, law, business, public policy and the arts. The fellowships aim to provide new perspectives on the program’s overarching theme for 2015: Current and Future Challenges to U.S. Democracy and International Order. Winning proposals address issues including policing and race, big data and privacy, the impact of an aging population, the safety of generic drugs, and how attitudes are formed among voters. The Corporation will award a total of $6.4 million to the inaugural class.

Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, said, “It is my hope that the work of the Andrew Carnegie Fellows will help inform the American public as well as policy makers.” He said that the selection committee includes five current and former university presidents. Each proposal, he said, was reviewed and rated by at least one of the 25 prominent scholars, educators and intellectuals who served as anonymous evaluators.

In launching the fellowship program, the Corporation sought nominations from nearly 700 leaders from a range of universities, think tanks, publishers, independent scholars and non-profit organizations nationwide, who collectively nominated more than 300 people.

“What impressed me most was the quality of the proposals—they seek to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our times with innovative and forward-looking ideas from a wide range of high-caliber candidates,” said Susan Hockfield, MIT president emerita, who chaired the panel of jurors. “Solutions to the complex issues of today and tomorrow will not emerge simply through technology and science, but require humanistic and social science scholarship to use lessons of the past to devise paths to future peace and progress.”

The jurors were asked to consider the merits of each proposal based on its originality, promise and potential impact on a particular field of scholarship. The anticipated result of each fellowship is a book or major study.