Localizing the Global Feminist Conflict
This special journal issue illustrates the movement’s quest to both appropriate and translate the global feminist understandings of trafficking (Abubikirova et al. 1999). The editors employed GAATW’s (sex-work feminist) definition, but, highlighting their understanding of trafficking as linked to new (1993) freedoms for Russians to travel abroad for work, the preface to the journal names the problem as the “illegal emigration of women” (nezakonnyi vyvoz zhenshchin za granitsu). While recognizing the incentives created by the “collapse of the [Soviet] social system,” they place blame for women’s ending up in the illegal sector of the economy on the countries of destination (in contrast to developed countries, which tend to blame countries like Russia). They see the problem as exacerbated by European countries’ desire to restrict immigration, leaving women wishing to immigrate even more dependent on shady businesses who bribe European government officials. “This is how a woman, striving for independence and material wellbeing, finds herself, on the contrary, in servitude and dire straits, suffering both from violence and fear for her own life and the lives of those close to her” (3).
Over the next few years, the St. Petersburg Crisis Center for Women also began to take part in various international meetings on trafficking—in the Baltics, with the OSCE, and in front of the U. S. Senate—as they developed an antitrafficking project, including psychological, legal, and financial support to deported women (Khodyreva 2004). This center too did not fit easily in one global feminist camp or another. Its director, Natalia Khodyreva, has advocated the establishment of bilateral agreements to create temporary worker programs for Russian women abroad so that the women, who mostly want to earn money for their families, can have a better chance of not being manipulated by organized crime (241). She also highlights a particular Russian concern, the trafficking in women or women’s body parts for reproduction. At the same time, she rejects the neoliberal discourse of choice, something she sees as alien to Russia and as essential to sex-work feminism. Acknowledging that sex-worker rights may work for citizen sex workers, she points out that legalizing prostitution would leave Russian sex workers outside of the regular labor market as most are likely not legal residents. For Khodyreva (2005, 245), the two feminist camps “do not contradict each other”: antiprostitution feminists focus on long-term issues, while sex-work feminists focus on “palliative tactical measures to improve the quality of life for those women already engaged in prostitution.”
But women’s crisis centers in Russia could not long escape the global feminist divides. Not only did assistance increase suspicion and fragmentation, but funders took sides. Khodyreva elaborates: “[T]here are. . . structures that make the financing [of Russian antitrafficking initiatives] directly dependent on the ideological position. . . with respect to prostitution” (Khodyreva 2004, 243). It was this ideological (and funding) divide that solidified the conflict between many women’s crisis center leaders and the Angel Coalition, the new coalition of antitrafficking organizations that emerged in the late 1990s from the U. S.-Russian NGO MiraMed and was officially headed by Khodyreva. MiraMed’s director took a strong antiprostitution stance, and some funders, such as U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ford Foundation, apparently at first refused to fund them. In contrast, the other women’s crisis center leaders participated in international events organized by sex-work feminists.12 Even though both the women’s crisis centers and the Angel Coalition/MiraMed had been inspired by the 1997 conference and documentary, by the new millennium they were bitterly divided.