Introduction: Foreign Intervention. and Gender Violence
hen the Russian borders opened in the early 1990s, the international community responded with an unprecedented torrent of attention to issues such as rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and later, trafficking in women. Small grants and then larger grants funded Russian academics to research and then to create crisis centers and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help women living with such violence. Every kind of donor—from small feminist groups and charitable foundations to international development agencies—seemed interested in helping Russians address violence against women. Young Western feminists arrived on exchange programs, bringing the experience of shelter movements and rape crisis centers in their backpacks; transnational feminists arrived as part of new global networks. Passionate lawyers and judges, many with long-standing interest in Russia or gender violence, hopped on transcontinental planes, hoping to advance human rights and the rule of law. States and the evolving European Union sent diplomats to important international meetings to speak about gender violence and law enforcement experts to train their Russian counterparts. There was so much interest that many activists in Russia assumed that the problem of gender violence had been solved in the West—why else would foreigners pay so much attention to violence against women in other places?
The bulk of the intervention came from the United States, the leading donor to Russia since the Soviet collapse. By 2006, more than $10 million had been distributed from donors—such as the U. S. Agency for International Development, the U. S. State Department, and the New York-based Ford Foundation—to small organizations for whom the grants were often substantial. Millions of U. S. dollars paid for public awareness campaigns and law enforcement and judicial trainings. The United States—based Human Rights Watch and the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights—along with Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the International Organization for Migration—documented the Russian government’s failures to provide even minimal assistance or protection to women experiencing violence. Other interventions were more unexpected, such as when the United States passed antitrafficking legislation that took the remarkable step of requiring other countries to meet U. S.-mandated standards or to suffer the termination of non-humanitarian assistance. When the United States delayed action, allies of a U. S.-Russian antitrafficking organization recruited U. S. evangelical Christians to lobby their conservative Congress members to promote change in Russia.
These foreign interventions have had significant impact on Russian gender violence politics. From a feminist perspective, some of it seems good. So-called democracy assistance provided the necessary financial resources for an NGO- based women’s crisis center movement that included, by 2004, some two hundred new organizations in two-thirds of Russia’s regions, most offering hotline counseling, some providing shelter, and many advocating for change in society. Awareness campaigns spread new consciousness of violence in the family and sometimes even evoked sympathy and outrage. Training of state personnel and foreign lobbying led to some significant reforms on domestic violence in Russian regions and to national legislation on trafficking in persons. By 2006, even the ministry in charge of Russian police seemed changed when it initiated a widespread campaign telling people to call local precincts if they are experiencing “violence in the family,” a new term for Russian people and a new responsibility for Russian authorities.
These changes are remarkable given the typical accusations directed at women who suffered gendered violence: “Why did you [insert: talk to him, bring him back to your apartment, agree to go to dinner with him, wear that outfit, drink with him, flick your hair, marry him, agree to go abroad. . . or otherwise provoke him]?” The changes are also astonishing given the general rollback in state social services, the overall consequences for women’s political power and economic status of the shift from socialism, and the authorities’ previous widespread denial of the existence, prevalence, and severity of all types of violence against women by police. Antitrafficking legislation was surprising given that many Russian officials financially benefit from trafficking and prostitution.
On the other hand, donors’ funding whims have hamstrung committed and effective organizations and programs and increased fragmentation in the women’s movement in Russia. Global controversies over how best to understand trafficking in women have forced Russian activists to take sides and have institutionalized personality and resource conflicts. The U. S. preemption of the issue of trafficking in women—because of U. S. domestic politics—excluded many of those committed to feminist ideas and led to an outcome that many found frustrating and perhaps even damaging to the cause. Reform on all forms of gender violence has been incomplete. It is not clear that the lives of most women in Russia are better than before the interventions.
Understanding why there was so much attention to violence against women in Russia requires recognizing the dramatic shifts in the transnational women’s movement and other international politics. These interventions were a result not of the West’s great success at addressing its own gender violence—far from it— but of the development, by the mid-1990s, of what I call, for this analysis, a new globalfeminist consensus on violence against women. After more than a decade of disagreement between the feminists from the Global North (industrialized democracies such as the United States, Canada, Western Europe) and the Global South (developing countries in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia), U. N. gatherings in the 1980s initiated a new way of networking across these divides. United by a new understanding linking gender justice with human rights, global feminists’ central idea was the broad concept of “violence against women,” which summed up a myriad of issues of interest to those from both regions. Driven by new “norms of inclusivity” and a respect for autonomous self-organizing (Weldon 2006), feminists created transnational feminist networks constituted by organizations from around the world (Moghadam 2005). This new global feminist consensus also created the possibility of alliances with the international donors and human rights advocates just as they were beginning to direct attention to Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia following the demise of the Soviet Union (Moghadam 2005; Keck and Sikkink 1998, ch. 5). Simultaneously, many Western feminists, especially American feminists, faced backlash at home and fantasized that they could have more impact abroad.
This global feminist consensus has transformed the politics of gender violence around the world. By the late 1990s in Russia, almost all activists employed the language of women’s human rights, and even those activists who criticize the more aggressive forms of intervention see the Russian movement as “integrating” into the global “war against violence against women.”1 In regions as different from postcommunist Eurasia as Latin America and Asia, global influences similar to those impacting Russia have become important in shaping local activism and national debates (Hester 2005; Luciano, Esim, and Dubbury 2005; Merry 2006a). Transnational pressures and ideas concerning gender violence have penetrated into Western European democracies (Kantola 2006; Zippel 2006). Even in the Middle East (Al-Ali 2003), a region often particularly resistant to intervention regarding gender, the availability of international funding and U. N. interest has begun to be important, at least in raising of the issue of gender violence. In most places—perhaps the United States is the exception—the politics of gender violence is no longer primarily a national affair.
This book explores this new phenomenon of foreign intervention into states’ gender violence politics, tracing global ideas and funds, transnational activists, and more conventional agents of international diplomacy as they engaged Russia’s activists, policymakers, and state officials in law enforcement and social services. It examines the intervention-heavy period of the early 1990s up through the middle of the next decade, when many interveners had lost interest. By 2006, Russian president Putin had also reined in organized civil society and consolidated a much more authoritarian regime buoyed by surging oil prices. Through an examination of the actual impacts of intervention, I centralize concerns about the possibility of a new era of imperialism in the name of women’s rights. In sum, this book addresses the essential question for transnational feminist activists today: Does intervention justified by global norms of women’s human rights work? More briefly, can foreign intervention help women? If yes, which kind and under what circumstances? The question of foreign intervention into gender violence also raises crucial theoretical puzzles for social scientists concerned with gender politics, especially those within the political science fields of comparative politics and international relations.