Neoimperialist Concerns, Empirical Obstacles

Investigating this study’s central question—whether foreign intervention can help women—requires creating standards of measurement, a move complicated by the colonial history of justifying imperialist projects under the guise of “help­ing” women. This concern is especially acute when the United States claims to be “in the forefront of advancing women’s causes around the world,”3 yet leaves un­examined its long history of resisting global initiatives aimed at improving wom­en’s status or of creating policies that restrict others’ response to gender injustice. These include the U. S. opposition to the creation within the United Nations of a robust commission on the status of women (Hawkesworth 2006, 88—90), the refusal to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimi­nation Against Women, and the initiation of the 1984 “global gag rule” banning foreign NGOs from receiving U. S. funds if they (using other moneys) also per­form or discuss abortion.

Even in this new global feminist consensus era in which many struggled to be more inclusive and responsive to local concerns, Western feminists arrived in Central and Eastern Europe “trailing their own increasing marginality and con­ceptual confusion at home” (Snitow 1999, 36). This baggage multiplied “the like­lihood of wasted effort, misunderstanding, and even. . . damaging uses of the categories of gender.” And, there have been some troubling results, such as when Western feminist ideas, “accompanied as they often are with glamour or with foundation money,” drown out local activist interests (37). Also problematic is that much of global feminism had become unmoored from its radical critique as Left ideologies were destabilized following socialism’s collapse. For the case of violence against women, the global feminist discourse can downplay the role of the government’s management of the economy and the broader issues of poverty that shape women’s experience of violence, especially domestic violence and traf­ficking. In this context, intervention may foster the aims of neoliberalism, either by serving the role of former state social services or by justifying the privatization of such former state functions (Funk 2006, 269—70).

At the same time, these concerns about neoimperialism should not keep social scientists from asking the tough questions about how policies and practices can help women. Gender in this analysis is not only a tool in service of abstract schol­arly inquiry, but a challenge to existing power structures. The feminism that gave us gender analysis is an ideology that calls for remedying gender injustice. Fur­ther, the imperialistic critiques can oversimplify and overgeneralize, missing the differences in types of interventions, agents of intervention, or responses by local NGOs (Funk 2006, 275). By focusing on the intentions of Western governments, they can fail to notice the actual consequences. I, like Nanette Funk (2006, 265— 66), take the position that foreign intervention, even with “some imperial aims[,] can, in certain cases, be compatible with. . . the demands of justice.” This ap­proach was driven by the observations that it was Russian feminists who sought

and appropriated global feminist and human rights discourses in ways similar to activists in very different contexts and that it is those leaders resistant to re­sponding to gender violence who most often invoke the imperialist claim about women’s human rights (Merry 2006b). I intentionally use the word “help” to in­voke the imperialist concerns and to centralize the aspiration to eliminate gender injustice.

Additional problems with creating standards for measurement of what it means to help women are empirical. The end goal for most feminists concerned with the problem is to eliminate gender violence. Measuring the achievement of this goal would involve looking at the relationships between various responses and the rates of gender violence as well as the systematic analysis of victims’ reports about their experiences in shelters and with the criminal justice system. This kind of assess­ment of the effectiveness of state policy and practice is only beginning to become possible in established democracies and remains practically impossible in post­communist societies (Weldon 2002). Even looking at comparative rates of gender violence can be misleading. Since gender violence has been ignored by authori­ties, lower statistics can indicate either that there is less violence (i. e., the policies are working) or that the victims of violence assess that there is no use in reporting the violence, suggesting that violence is high (i. e., the polices are not working) (Elman 1996, vii). Finally, real reform is a slow process. If all the initiatives imag­ined by the most astute activists were implemented today in the best polity, end­ing gender violence would take at least one generation if not more.