How and when funding can work
A brief comparative analysis of other similar interventions on the issue of domestic violence in formerly communist countries in East and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union highlights how and why funding of gender violence activism worked in Russia. Most states in the region had experienced some intervention, and by 2006, most had passed some kind of domestic violence reform (Johnson and Brunell 2006; Brunell and Johnson 2007).
First, funding was targeted to an issue in which there was local interest, not just interest among international organizations and donors. Even before the direct interventions, several key Russian feminists in several large cities had been growing concerned about gender violence, and other activists were quickly mobilized because the problem of domestic violence was conspicuous in early postSoviet Russia. In Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova, by contrast, interest in the domestic violence issue was mostly an external imposition embraced by strategic women’s organizations who had little commitment to global feminist objectives (Hrycak 2006; Johnson 2007b). Funding to these organizations, like other civil society funding going into post-Soviet states, bolstered already existing patronage networks.
Second, both transnational and local activists were included in the design and implementation of the intervention into Russia’s domestic violence politics. The same was true of Bulgaria, which, as of 2006, was the first to adopt the region’s most progressive reform, a protection order (Johnson and Brunell 2006).3 Although the opportunity for reform was created by Bulgaria’s desire to meet requirements for EU membership, the extensiveness of the reform was a result of tireless local activism, the appropriation and translation of a Minnesota law, and support from the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (MAHR). As in
Russia, the distribution of funding to combat domestic violence in Russia was bolstered by an unusually inclusive relationship with local activists, the result of MAHR’s commitment to inclusion. In Russia, the relationship between transnational and local was perhaps more balanced (vis-a-vis the West) than elsewhere because activists could benefit from Russia’s former superpower status. The norms of inclusivity that fostered the transnational movement against gender violence (Weldon 2006) were successfully translated by transnational feminists into the intervention process.
Third, interest and funding into Russia’s domestic violence politics was sustained over more than a decade. The relationships built between some women’s crisis center leaders and donors meant, in essence, multiyear and predictable funding for some key organizations until recently. Funding allowed these organizations to grow in ways that many other women’s organizations could not. In the Czech Republic, activism was also stimulated by global feminist interest in gender violence combined with an infusion of financial support, leading to the creation of at least five crisis centers networked into WAVE, the European transnational feminist network (Johnson and Brunell 2006). Reforms, consisting of a national training program for police officers and a law reclassifying violence in the home as a criminal offense, were passed in 2002 and 2003 after a campaign facilitated by the Women’s Network Program of the Open Society Institute. However, as the Czech Republic improved its economy and as donor interest shifted elsewhere, Czech organizations lost the financial support essential to pursuing more substantial reforms and activism waned. Even this wealthier society, where per capita income is two times more than in Russia,4 lacked the necessary infrastructure, wealth, and cultural commitments to nourish feminist mobilization.
Fourth, Russia retained enough sovereignty that it did not give in to international pressure to pass symbolic legislation on domestic violence. In contrast, in those countries hoping to gain EU membership in 2004 or 2007, new policies on domestic violence were an easy signal of the requested gender-equality commitments. Yet, the EU’s new gender-mainstreaming approach—and the lower status of gender issues in the process of harmonization of local laws with EU law— has meant that superficial changes were often sufficient for real change (Krizsan, Paantjens, and van Lamoen 2005). Although described in English as about “domestic violence,” most initiatives employ native-language equivalents of “violence in the family” and—in practice—usually mean only child abuse. Post-Soviet states hoping to establish themselves as civilized, such as Ukraine and Kyrgyz Republic, also passed laws designed to signal commitments to international norms. As in the Global South (Luciano, Esim, and Dubbury 2005), many reforms in the region represent only promises, without the necessary funds to support real change. On the other hand, Russia’s sovereignty, allowing it to resist international pressure, meant that there has not been national legislation on domestic violence. Delaying reform in Russia, paradoxically, preserved international and local interest, providing some fodder for continued activism and creating the possibility for meaningful reform. On the issue of trafficking, the more aggressive intervention from the United States’ threats of sanctions had the same effect as EU pressure on potential members: leading to mostly symbolic reform but little, if anything, to undermine the sex/gender hierarchy.