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  • Gender Violence in Russia: The Politics of Feminist Intervention
  • Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom (bio)
Janet Elise Johnson, Gender Violence in Russia: The Politics of Feminist Intervention (Indiana Univ. Press 2009) 256 pages, ISBN 9780253220745.

Janet Johnson's book on transnational feminist efforts to combat gender violence in Russia draws on over a decade of research and constitutes an excellent and thought-provoking contribution to the burgeoning literature on women's activism in Russia. Although this is her first sole-authored book, Johnson has been writing and publishing on gender-based activism in Russia for many years as part of a new wave of scholarship in this area, which began with the pioneering work of Valerie Sperling and has been augmented by contributions from others such as Julie Hemment, Sarah Henderson, and even myself.1 [End Page 223]

Exhaustively researched, Johnson's book establishes her status as perhaps the Western authority on feminist activism in Russia in the area of violence against women. She elucidates many of the back stories of shifting alliances and disagreements between global and Russian feminists and within the Russian women's movement itself in a degree of detail that can only come from extensive periods of time spent in Russia observing the organizations and campaigns in action. She also provides clear and detailed analysis of differences in approaches between typical Russian and American crisis centers for women, as well as the obstacles that Russian crisis centers have faced in their development. Johnson identifies recent, crucial developments affecting the crisis centers, providing a sobering account of the collapse of many nongovernmental crisis centers in an era of cutbacks in Western aid to Russian civil society. At the same time, she expertly surveys the "big picture" of historical and social context to supplement her examination of gender violence issues. One particularly valuable, original, empirical contribution, which will no doubt be cited by other scholars, is Johnson's content analysis of sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking issues in the major Russian newspaper Izvestiia during the years 1995 to 2005.

Johnson investigates how transnational networks of feminist activists, both local and global, have worked to combat a number of types of gender-based violence in Russia, and assesses the successes and failures of each, attempting to explain them systematically. The first couple of chapters of the book explore scholarly literature on transnational feminist networks and activist networks more generally, while the concluding chapter summarizes the book's argument and offers strategic recommendations for global feminists. In a series of case study chapters in the middle of the book, she examines feminists' influence in tackling problems of sexual assault (including not only rape but also sexual harassment in the workplace), domestic violence, and trafficking in women. Johnson provocatively calls these efforts "feminist interventions." These feminist efforts are often linked to aid programs of Western governments and private foundations that support government or civil society activity in the same issue areas. Johnson usefully classifies different forms of possible intervention (whether by feminists or others) along a continuum, beginning with the least interventionist form: "blame and shame" tactics, aimed at persuading states to adopt global norms, which are typically carried out by transnational advocacy networks (along the lines argued by Keck and Sikkink).2 Stronger forms of intervention, typically deployed by governments or international organizations, range from carrots of foreign assistance programs, to sticks such as trade sanctions, withdrawal of foreign aid, or military intervention (as Johnson points out, these have sometimes been "cloaked in the ideas of global feminism," most notably in the case of recent military [End Page 224] intervention in Afghanistan, but are rarely, if ever, spearheaded by global feminists themselves).3

Johnson provides a well-conceived and thorough framework for measuring the effectiveness (or success) of transnational feminist interventions in each of her three issue areas of focus. She examines their success in translating global norms into vernacular language that local activists can use, raising public awareness, reforming state policy, and reforming state practices (often at frontline staff levels of state agencies). She finds that feminist interventions have fallen flat on all four criteria in sexual assault (especially in the area of sexual harassment), led to moderately...


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