restricted access Introduction: Gendered Interventions
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Introduction: Gendered Interventions “People sit on their grants and live—it’s not a women’s movement, it’s the creation of jobs! If only they [the Americans] guessed what happened to their money.” Looking at me, she added with a wink, “Don’t tell them! They only support us because they think that where there are feminists, there are no Communists!” Svetlana, women’s activist and journalist In late May 1998, I traveled to St. Petersburg to attend a conference with two of my women activist friends—Valentina, history professor and founder of the women’s group Zhenskii Svet (Women’s Light), and Natalia, one of the newer members of the group, an engineer in her early ¤fties who’d recently been laid off. As we sat on the bunks of the crowded overnight train, we discussed the possible scenarios. We were beginning our collaborative project to set up a crisis center in the provincial city Tver’, and we hoped that we could make useful connections with other provincial groups. The event was organized and funded by the American Association of University Women with the goal of forming a new women’s information network. Women from all over the far-®ung Russian Federation had been ®own in to attend . However, despite the upbeat address delivered by the American convener, Elizabeth A. (a professor of women’s studies), attempts at unity faltered. As was clear from their comments at the podium and from the discussion that erupted in the hall, the delegates were impatient both with the Americans who had brought them there and with each other. There was an atmosphere of confusion—while some were long-term activists, others had only recently set up women’s groups and were new to the ¤eld of women’s organizing. These administrators , state of¤cials, and nongovernmental activists had little in common and were clearly at cross-purposes. And seven years after state socialism’s “collapse ,” the mere presence of a foreigner did not excite; the message of women’s unity that had once galvanized now seemed stale and out of sync with local realities. All three of us were disappointed; I found solace by reverting to the role of ethnographer (a comfort denied my activist friends) and busied myself by jotting down some of the more pithy expressions of dissent. Of all the comments I captured that day, the comment by Svetlana stood out most starkly: the women’s movement in Russia, she implied cynically, was a vehicle for creating jobs for elite women, not a grassroots movement committed to gender equity and universal sisterhood. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, women’s activism in Russia has undergone a number of phases. The ¤rst independent groups appeared in Russia in the late 1980s. They were part of a groundswell of civic initiatives and associational activity permitted by perestroika reforms, which became known as the societal movement (obshchestvennoe dvizhenie). As with other informal associations (neformaly), these ¤rst groups were mostly intelligentsia-led, loose groupings of colleagues and friends, discussion groups that organized around broad, transformational goals (Fish 1995). Inspired by the new, permissive climate of perestroika,1 these were explicitly “political” in their orientation, insofar as they stood in opposition to the state socialist regime.2 As state socialism unraveled and Russia opened to the rest of the world, Russian women activists were able to connect with foreign activists and groups for the ¤rst time. In the early 1990s there was a proliferation of horizontal exchanges and collaborations around women’s issues between individual activists and groups in Western Europe and the U.S. In the mid-1990s, the pace and pro¤le of these exchanges changed and intensi¤ed as they became institutionalized through the work of U.S.- and European-based foundations and agencies that were newly active in post-socialist states. Agencies such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute began to channel resources to women’s groups as part of their broader commitment to assisting democratization and the transition to a market economy. This was due in part to international recognition of the transition ’s profoundly gendered effects: in the ¤rst democratic elections, women’s political representation plummeted; early research suggested that women were economically marginalized by marketization. Indeed, indicators such as these urgently beckoned globally minded activists like Elizabeth A. But it had to do with broader shifts, too. What I call the “gendered interventions” of international foundations in Russia were enabled by shifts...


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