Positioned within Harvard Kennedy School, the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) is a research center that focuses on closing gender gaps in economic opportunity, political participation, health, and education by creating knowledge, training leaders and informing public policy and organizational practices.

WAPPP looks at what policies, organizational structures and leadership techniques help close involuntary gender gaps—those that occur due to constraints rather than choice—either due to explicit barriers (laws or the absence thereof) and/or implicit barriers (stereotypes, biased judgements and discrimination). Conducting research to provide evidence-based insights and recommendations, we identify small to large-scale successful interventions, while examining the impact of closing gender gaps.

Our world-class faculty—including Iris Bohnet, Hannah Riley Bowles, Dara Kay Cohen, Jane Mansbridge, and Rohini Pande—have deepened our understanding of the evolving landscape of gender gaps and the mechanisms we can employ to close them.

Recent Publications

Zippel, Kathrin. Women in Global Science: Advancing Academic Careers through International Collaboration. Stanford University Press, 2017. Web. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Scientific and engineering research is increasingly global, and international collaboration can be essential to academic success. Yet even as administrators and policymakers extol the benefits of global science, few recognize the diversity of international research collaborations and their participants, or take gendered inequalities into account. Women in Global Science is the first book to consider systematically the challenges and opportunities that the globalization of scientific work brings to U.S. academics, especially for women faculty.

Kathrin Zippel looks to the STEM fields as a case study, where gendered cultures and structures in academia have contributed to an underrepresentation of women. While some have approached underrepresentation as a national concern with a national solution, Zippel highlights how gender relations are reconfigured in global academia. For U.S. women in particular, international collaboration offers opportunities to step outside of exclusionary networks at home. International collaboration is not the panacea to gendered inequalities in academia, but, as Zippel argues, international considerations can be key to ending the steady attrition of women in STEM fields and developing a more inclusive academic world.

Prügl, Elisabeth. “Neoliberalism with a Feminist Face: Crafting a New Hegemony at the World Bank”. Feminist Economics 23.1 (2016): , 23, 1, 30-53. Web. Publisher's VersionAbstract


Neoliberalism has been discredited as a result of proliferating crises (financial, ecological, care) and mounting inequality. This paper examines the growing research on gender at the World Bank as a site for the construction of a new hegemonic consensus around neoliberalism. Drawing on a computer-assisted inductive analysis of thirty-four Bank publications on gender since 2001, the paper documents Bank efforts to establish a positive relationship between gender equality and growth; shows the expansion of the Bank’s definition of equality as equal opportunity; illustrates how the focus on institutions has enabled engagement with core feminist concerns, such as equality in the family; and traces how incorporating notions of women’s empowerment and agency has made possible a focus on domestic violence. The paper concludes by emphasizing the ambiguous effects of the Bank’s new neoliberalism, which continues to use the market as the arbiter of social values while providing openings for feminist agendas.


Cohen, Dara Kay. Rape During Civil War. Cornell University Press, 2016. Web. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Rape is common during wartime, but even within the context of the same war, some armed groups perpetrate rape on a massive scale while others never do. In Rape during Civil War, Dara Kay Cohen examines variation in the severity and perpetrators of rape using an original dataset of reported rape during all major civil wars from 1980 to 2012. Cohen also conducted extensive fieldwork, including interviews with perpetrators of wartime rape, in three postconflict counties, finding that rape was widespread in the civil wars of the Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste but was far less common during El Salvador's civil war.

Cohen argues that armed groups that recruit their fighters through the random abduction of strangers use rape—and especially gang rape—to create bonds of loyalty and trust between soldiers. The statistical evidence confirms that armed groups that recruit using abduction are more likely to perpetrate rape than are groups that use voluntary methods, even controlling for other confounding factors. Important findings from the fieldwork—across cases—include that rape, even when it occurs on a massive scale, rarely seems to be directly ordered. Instead, former fighters describe participating in rape as a violent socialization practice that served to cut ties with fighters’ past lives and to signal their commitment to their new groups. Results from the book lay the groundwork for the systematic analysis of an understudied form of civilian abuse. The book will also be useful to policymakers and organizations seeking to understand and to mitigate the horrors of wartime rape.

Dhir, Aaron A. Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Corporate Law, Governance, and Diversity. Cambridge University Press, 2016. Web. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The lack of gender parity in the governance of business corporations has ignited a heated global debate leading policymakers to wrestle with difficult questions that lie at the intersection of market activity and social identity politics. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with corporate board directors in Norway and documentary content analysis of corporate securities filings in the United States, Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity empirically investigates two distinct regulatory models designed to address diversity in the boardroom: quotas and disclosure. The author's study of the Norwegian quota model demonstrates the important role diversity can play in enhancing the quality of corporate governance, while also revealing the challenges diversity mandates pose. His analysis of the U.S. regime shows how a disclosure model has led corporations to establish a vocabulary of “diversity.” At the same time, the analysis highlights the downsides of affording firms too much discretion in defining that concept. This book deepens ongoing policy conversations and offers new insights into the role law can play in reshaping the gendered dynamics of corporate governance cultures.


Gender Action Portal

A collection of summarized research evaluating the impact of specific policies, strategies, and organizational practices to close gender gaps in the areas of economic opportunity, politics, health, and education.

The Gender Action Portal (GAP) focuses on experimental approaches to evaluate policies – both in the field and in the laboratory – and draws from multiple disciplines, including economics, psychology, and organizational behavior.

GAP serves as an online tool for decision makers across sectors to utilize evidence-based research in order to create better informed policies and procedures.

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