Theorizing intervention and feminist reform
Comparative and International Models
Over the last two decades, social scientists steeped in both feminist theory and social science rigor have begun the comparative study of gender violence politics. The first studies understood the emergence of activisms against gender violence and the passage of policy reforms, such as new domestic violence laws and new protections for rape victims, as national processes (e. g., Dobash and Dobash 1992; Elman 1996; Mazur 2002, ch. 9; Weldon 2002). Amy Elman (1996), for example, argues that, in comparison to the centralized corporatist Swedish state, the decentralized American state both fostered an autonomous women’s movement and created more opportunities for gender violence policy reform. Similarly, S. Laurel Weldon (2002), in a study of thirty-six industrialized democracies, argues that national governments are most responsive to demands for policy change when there is a “strong, autonomous [national] women’s movement that draws on and reinforces state institutions designed to promote the status of women” (Weldon 2002, 5). Even studies that looked at developing contexts, such as India (Bush 1992) and elsewhere in the Global South (Heise et al. 1994), saw gender violence reform as primarily a result of interactions between domestic women’s movements and the state.
These studies coincide with the emergence of a new subfield in political science, feminist comparative policy theory, summarized in Amy Mazur’s (2002) Theorizing Feminist Policy and employed in the multibook project by the Research Network on Gender Politics and the State (e. g., Stetson 2002; Outshoorn 2004). Theorists using this approach systematically study the impact of women’s movements and women’s policy agencies on the policymaking of various gender-related issues. This work comes from a tradition among feminist social scientists to point to the importance of the ideological and institutional context as structural impediments or opportunities as well as suggesting the kinds of strategic alliances between activists, politicians, and civil servants that were more likely to be effective. They were applying and elaborating mainstream social science theories about structure and building on feminist frameworks such as the “triangle of empowerment”— “the interplay between. . . the women’s movement, feminist politicians and feminist civil servants (femocrats)” (Vargas and Wieringa 1998, 3).
Useful in what they are beginning to tease out about national feminist policymaking in established democracies, these studies are less helpful in the post— global feminist consensus era when the global has become preeminent over the national and local. As feminist comparative policy theory does not intend to cover non-Western democracies, these studies assume strong states, in terms of both policy effectiveness and sovereignty. Although international influence is one among a number of exogenous determinants that could shape the formulation of policy, in practice these studies have focused overwhelmingly on domestic deter – minants.2 Weldon’s wider study up to 1994 showed that the transnational women’s movement did not seem to have had an impact independent of local women’s organizing (Weldon 2002, 206). Feminist comparative policy studies also assume the existence of—or at least the legacy of—a broad-based women’s movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. In contrast, Russia, like many countries, has had less state strength, has been more influenced by outside forces, and is characterized by more recent and weaker women’s mobilization.
On the other hand, international relations theorists following the paradigm- shifting publication of Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s (1998) Activists beyond Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics highlight the international dimensions of these kinds of politics. These constructivists explain how human rights issues such as gender violence get onto the international agenda. Through what they call “the boomerang,” local organizations can circumvent a recalcitrant state by finding international allies to pressure intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations to establish new norms. Their insight has led to an explosion of new studies, some of which cross the divide between the political science fields of international relations and comparative politics, but most leave underexplored the question of how those international institutions, norms, and intervening states impact domestic policy. The literature’s primary approach to this latter question is the theory of the norms cascade, the acceptance of new global norms as indicated by rapid treaty ratification and adoption of new law and practices—an approach that begs the political questions about how norms get institutionalized nationally, regionally, and locally. Other international relations approaches, such as the sanctions literature (e. g., Pape 1997), similarly (and unsurprisingly) underplay the domestic politics involved in responding to foreign pressures.
The case of Russia—as many other polities—poses the question of how we study the nexus of the international and the domestic when foreign intervention justified by global feminism, in collaboration with local women’s NGOs, is the primary engine of domestic reform. Like legal anthropologist Sally Engle Merry (2006a) in Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice, I argue that to understand gender politics in those places we must examine in detail the “interface between global and local activism” (3). As in the interdisciplinary studies of the impact of democracy assistance on civil society in postcommunist Europe and Eurasia (Wedel 2001; Mendelson and Glenn 2002; Henderson 2003; Kuenhast and Nechemias 2004; Sundstrom 2006; Hemment 2007), we must consider the consequences, intended and unintended, of foreign aid on social mobilization. Considering the balance of power following the end of the Cold War, the second Bush administration’s preemptive warfare, and the potential of a united Europe, we must also consider the local impact of interventions by strong states or the European Union. Along with my colleagues who have been recently studying gender violence politics (Kantola 2006; Zippel 2006), I put forward a model that gets beyond the artificial division in political science between comparative political analysis and international relations.