The findings of this study lead to the following recommendations for those activists and scholars committed to the ideas of global feminism:
Global feminists should stay involved. It is understandable that some Western feminists would prefer to keep their hands clean by not involving themselves with interventions from strong states or even international development agencies. Unfortunately, the costs of this approach can be high for women in the rest of the world. A century after the British claimed to be helping women through colonization, the world is in the midst of a new wave of foreign intervention ostensibly to help women. When global feminists are not included in the process of designing and implementing interventions, the results are likely to be much worse.
Feminist involvement is especially important for the United States and for antitrafficking efforts. It is especially important that those committed to global feminism stay involved in the U. S.’s foreign policy and work to hold the U. S. administration accountable for its claims to promote women’s rights, not just protect women. This will be crucial if the U. S. Congress decides to pursue more legislation similar to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act or the International Violence Against Women Act. One strategy would be to call for institutional reform so that independent women’s groups have some institutionalized input into the U. S. State Department’s Office of International Women’s Issues. On the issue of trafficking, in the United States and beyond, it is important that feminists from all sides be involved in the process—and that they allow for disagreement on the issue of prostitution—in order to create an environment for local organizations to consider the options they see best to address the problem. Although some activists will probably balk at this pragmatic approach, this case study suggests the huge costs to feminist activism of imposing this ideological conflict. The messy conflicts between global feminists on trafficking in persons have given states more room to preempt the issue of trafficking.
Sustained, flexible, and responsive funding can work. Likewise, although there have been problems with NGO funding, feminist alliances with charitable donors, human rights activists, and intergovernmental organizations can work. Although some observers have been critical of the hierarchies created by long-term funding, such funding, this case shows, can promote change. Women’s activists in the postconflict regions, such as the Balkans and the South Caucuses, have been particularly impressed with the Swedish foundation Kvinna till Kvinna. They provide long-term financial support across ethnic, religious, and national affiliations, through partnership with local women’s organizations, from the viewpoint that local women’s organizations know their own problems best. Until gender violence is eliminated—or at least until postcommunist states and society take full responsibility for eliminating violence against women—support should also available for everyday existence, not just projects.
The language of human rights has limits. The language of human rights has become a powerful tool for combating gender injustice and gender violence, especially in industrialized and urban societies such as Russia, where there are no other good alternatives to countering Russian myths about gender violence. However, the language of human rights can be preempted by strong states in the service of “security” and “order,” especially when it leans toward discussions of safety and violence. This has become a bigger risk since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. A more democratic approach would be to engage in the language of responsibility, not just rights. Women have rights to live free from violence, and states, men, and other women have responsibilities to prevent violence. The language of women’s human rights has the greatest limitations when used to address trafficking in women (Ucarer 1999). This focus has downplayed what appears to be the growing problem of the trafficking in men for labor. The focus also can help hide the global economic inequality that shapes the problem. In more community-based societies, other strategies than human rights, such as collectively shaming abusers, may be more effective. The human rights approach should be seen as one among many strategies for pursuing change.
Statutory reform is not the be-all and end-all. There has been much global feminist attention to passing new laws against domestic violence, and many countries have passed legislation. Pushing laws without sufficient mobilization and transformation in the awareness of opinion leaders means that the resulting legislation is often toothless at best. As in Russia, laws on the books do not translate easily into changes in state practice in most countries, a lesson that should have been learned from the unfulfilled promise of Soviet-era commitments to address the woman question. New laws are only a small part of a larger process of reform that activists hope will lead to improved lives for women. States that pass symbolic legislation should not be off the hook, and global feminist resources may be more effective when focused on increasing local mobilization and shifting the public awareness.
There is a need for more thinking about interventions’ impact on marginalized groups. Perhaps the most underdeveloped aspect of the comparative study of gender politics continues to be the theorizing of marginalized groups such as ethnic, disabled, or queer women, but including these groups is an essential part of the new global feminist consensus’s intention to respect autonomous self-organizing (Weldon 2002; 2006). I urge my comparative social scientist colleagues to create more innovative ways to keep in mind all the multiple and intersecting hierarchies across cases and levels of politics. Without this kind of analysis, progressive donors who attempt to reach such groups may, as happened with an EU project on domestic violence among ethnic minorities in Russia, undermine feminist projects and exacerbate racism.
More broadly, this study is a call for detailed empirical study of policy issues with gendered impact. By systematically comparing the impact of interventions, this book demonstrates how such feminist social science can be done. It also shows that this kind of research can produce insights into what initiatives might make things better for women.