Brief review of the findings
The new global feminist consensus on violence against women suggests three general objectives for intervention upon which to assess interventions’ success. On the first objective, the mobilization of local activism, the Russian case shows the weakness of the least intrusive form of intervention, transnational feminist networking. Despite activists’ hopes and scholars’ assertions, the impact of this new form of more egalitarian transnational organizing was mostly symbolic. As in most countries where resources for broad-based progressive social organizing are scarce, transnational networking among feminists reached Russian feminists only in global cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. With only small grants, these local activists could appropriate the international model, the women’s crisis center in which volunteers staff a crisis hotline, but they could neither create a broader movement nor become successful advocates for societal or policy change.
Similarly, such minimally intrusive interventions are likely to have little impact on the second and third indicators of intervention success, raising awareness and increasing state responsiveness in policy and practice (see table 7.1). In the intervention on the issue of sexual assault in Russia, transnational feminists’ joining forces with human rights advocates to try to enforce new global norms led to virtually no changes: no measurable shift in the awareness of sexual assault as a violation of women’s rights and no state reform. Although the Russian government now acknowledges violence against women in its reports for various international women’s rights processes, such as CEDAW, the commitments remain empty promises without the imposition of additional incentives. The “Helsinki effect”—the impact of the acceptance of human rights norms by legitimacy-seeking repressive states (Thomas 2001)—was minuscule, if anything. For those concerned about re-enacting imperialism—who therefore shun more invasive i nterventions—the results are frustrating. In countries such as Russia, minimally intrusive interventions are not sufficient to foster the realization of new global norms.
On the other hand, the most aggressive interventions are likely to provoke only superficial reform and risk reinforcing the sex/gender system that feminists seek to undermine. As illustrated in the U. S.’s intervention on the issue of trafficking in women, when another state issues economic (or military) threats—even if ac-
TABLE 7.1. Foreign Intervention into Russia’s Gender Violence Politics
companied by lavish funding of local organizing and reform initiatives—the interests of the intervening state overwhelm the concerns of women on the ground. The funding of women’s organizing in Russia was refracted through the U. S.’s evangelical politics and exploited global feminist disagreements over how best to tackle trafficking in women. The Bush administration’s requirement that funding recipients be antiprostitution, in a context where this debate does not make much sense, led to the institutionalization of conflicts within the Russian movement and the de-funding of the robust feminist crisis centers. In the post—9/11 era of preemptive foreign policy, U. S. threats of economic sanctions spurred the Russian parliament to adopt national legislation criminalizing human trafficking, attracting a great deal of media coverage in the process. However, the reforms include no assistance for victims and nothing to prevent future trafficking, and in a state where police wield arbitrary authority, criminalization may put women in more precarious positions.
More broadly, with the inhibition of local feminist activism, the increased coverage of the issue and the reforms were predicated only on remilitarized visions of the global order mixed with resurgent nationalism characteristic of both the Bush and Putin administrations. Trafficking in women mattered to the Russian media and Russian politicians because they understood that the bodies of Russian women were being exploited by foreigners and because the solution involved strengthening Russia’s coercive forces. Once again casting men as the protectors of women, the reform contained no critique of the use of violence by men against the women they are assigned to protect. While some women may benefit from the arrest and prosecution of their traffickers, the aggressive intervention reinforced the gender neotraditionalism with which all women in Russia must contend. States, all of which remain dominated by elite male interests, do not preempt a comprehensive global feminism, but only a kind of pseudofeminism in which they claim to want to protect women, but do nothing to enforce women’s rights or transform gender. For those policymakers imagining aggressive campaigns to help women globally, be wary of relying on even well-intentioned states.
What proves most effective at achieving all three global feminist objectives, as well as the larger goal of undermining the sex/gender system, are alliances between global feminists and large donors. In terms of supporting local activism in Russia, the women’s crisis center movement developed only with the addition of substantial funding from international development agencies and large charitable foundations that made new commitments to global feminism, including hiring and otherwise including global feminists. Likewise, as demonstrated for the issue of domestic violence in Russia, these alliances were effective at fostering new awareness and state reform. Within a decade, these alliances led to multiple, widespread public awareness campaigns and collaborations with local activists who successfully translated global norms into the Russian vernacular. Unlike the alliance between global feminist and human rights advocates without the addition of substantial funding, these campaigns resulted in increased coverage of the issue in the media, sometimes even reflecting feminist ways of thinking about domestic violence. In turn, opinion leaders such as journalists and local politicians as well as the general population have grown less tolerant of domestic violence. In response to the international attention, several of Russia’s regions passed new domestic violence laws, others opened shelters, and yet others developed innovative cross-institutional relationships, such as between the local crisis center and the police. Although awareness and reform are incomplete, this kind of funded intervention has led to significant steps toward the global feminist objectives of mobilization, broader awareness, and policy reform as well as the end goal of undermining the sex/gender hierarchy.
Such funding of NGOs and of other democratizing reforms has come under a lot of criticism by academics recently. The most biting criticism from those concerned about progressive reform is that such funding may contribute to welfare state retrenchment; the new NGOs, especially those providing services that were previously responsibilities of the state, may legitimate less government intervention. The activism and impact of the women’s crisis centers in postcommunist Russia demonstrates how foreign-funded NGOs can become much more than instruments of neoliberalism. Although perhaps not the mass-based women’s movement imagined by nostalgic Western feminists, the women’s crisis center movement represents a successful combination of organization and activism, the kind of organizations that build civil society and deepen democracy. Most activists were not ready to absolve the state of responsibility to address gender violence; instead, they were making powerful arguments for the resumption of some previous state responsibility and the addition of new responsibilities. Especially considering their critique of economic domestic violence, these organizations were charting a middle way between state and market. Moreover, while the international funding had strings attached and perhaps heightened suspicions within the movement, it also provided essential economic resources for a society undergoing massive economic and social dislocation.
Comparing foreign financial assistance to both more and less intrusive interventions illustrates that critics of democracy assistance have overstated their case. Such large-scale funding initiatives can indeed cause all sorts of problems, but supporting democratic and justice-oriented NGOs is the best option available if activists want to promote global change. The essential question to investigate, to which I will return, is how to make these funded interventions successful.