International Studies Quarterly (2012) 56, 115–129

How Do Norms Travel? Theorizing International Women’s Rights in Transnational Perspective1
Susanne Zwingel State University of New York
If women’s rights norms have become internationally acknowledged, is it reasonable to assume that the status of women worldwide has improved because of international norms? It is argued here that the assumption of a global-to-local flow of norms inherent in most of the global norm diffusion literature is simplistic. To provide a more adequate theoretical framework, the paper juxtaposes the debate on the impact of international regimes and the power of global norms with an interdisciplinary mix of transnational approaches that identify multidirectional processes of appropriation and contestation of global norms. Departing from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as the most authoritative and steady piece of the international women’s rights discourse, the transnational perspective developed here proposes three main constellations of traveling global norms: global discourse translation, impact translation, and distorted translation.

Over the last four decades, gender equality norms have been integrated into international law and multilateral institutions to an unprecedented degree. Focal points of this process were the four World Women’s Conferences between 1975 and 1995. The Human Rights Conference in 1993 further added a powerful women’s rights perspective to the global discourse on gender equality (Bunch 1990). This engendering of global governance has not been a linear process—some have diagnosed a ‘‘backlash’’ in recent years due to the spread of fundamentalist and neoliberal ideologies (Antrobus 2004; Wichterich 2009)—but certainly a successful one (Naples and Desai 2002; Friedman 2003; Reilly 2009). The interesting question for activists and scholars alike is if this international success story has triggered concrete change toward legal, political, and socioeconomic equality for women in different parts of the world.2 It is the purpose of this paper to theorize the diffusion of women’s rights norms in a transnational perspective. This theoretical framework is linked to one concrete mechanism of the international women’s rights discourse, namely the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), primarily for two reasons. First, CEDAW has been the most
1 For valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper, I would like to thank Elisabeth Prugl, Sabine Lang, Heiner Bielefeldt, and the anony¨ mous reviewers of ISQ. 2 As my focus is on the possible impact of global discourses on gender equality, the paper does not deal with the maybe more crucial question if the world has become more gender equal at all. Conventional wisdom suggests that this is the case, but the data provided by international organizations often paints a picture of stagnation. For example, a recent study by the International Labour Organization finds that female labor force participation on the global level has risen only minimally since 1980 (from 50.2% to 51.7%) and that despite modest improvements employment still ‘‘bring(s) fewer gains (monetarily, socially, and structurally) to women than are brought to the typical working male’’ (International Labour Organization 2010:x).

authoritative and steady piece of the international women’s rights discourse. Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, it has since been ratified by 187 states. For three decades, the corresponding expert committee has been using the Convention to monitor state performance in regard to the protection and fulfillment of women’s rights. Second, a focus on one concrete instrument allows the development of an actor- and context-specific analysis of norm translation.3 Contrary to macro-analytical approaches that want to grasp general tendencies, it is my intention to identify concrete connections of and dynamics between contextualized discourses. The puzzle presented contributes to the vast body of International Relations (IR) scholarship investigating the relevance of international institutions but suggests a shift of perspective. I argue that the focus on the impact of international institutions on domestic policies neglects important dynamics of norm adaptation and rejection and ignores that international norms are themselves of evolutionary character. Thus, transnational, national, and local dynamics need to be taken seriously to understand the relevance of international institutions. The transnational framework I am suggesting is particularly suited for an analysis of human rights because international cooperation in this realm has been more genuinely transnational than in other fields: International human rights regimes are of predominantly promotional nature, and human rights implementation has remained largely a domestic affair. Hence, it is obvious that ratification of an international human rights treaty is only one step on a long
3 Instead of the term ‘‘norm diffusion’’ that has established itself within IR scholarship, I have come to the conclusion that ‘‘norm translation,’’ a term borrowed from anthropological literature, is actually more appropriate to describe the processes in question. The meaning of ‘‘translation’’ is clarified in the third section of this paper.

Zwingel, Susanne. (2011) How Do Norms Travel? Theorizing International Women’s Rights in Transnational Perspective. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2011.00701.x Ó 2011 International Studies Association

or international—and seen as being part of a nonlinear dynamic of norm production. . yet its shortcoming is that it conceptualizes international norms. Regime analysis looks at concrete mecha4 For a discussion of the position of women’s rights within the human rights framework. All these actors are considered contextualized—there is no qualitative difference between local. and Rittberger 1997:163).4 In the following. constructivists stress the importance of regimes in creating social order and consensus. on the other hand. their particular nature of straddling the public and the private and their long neglect as less important ‘‘traditional’’ or ‘‘development issues. While neo-liberals are most interested to find out why states generate such institutions even if they are against their short-term interests (Levy et al.’’ see the studies by Bunch (1990). Women’s Rights. Literature on global norm diffusion explores dynamics of creating internationally persuasive values and their expansion into domestic contexts with a special focus on the actor constellations that connect international and domestic normative discourses. ‘‘on the one hand. After presenting both debates (sections one and two). rules. Within the dynamically developing human rights discourse. they operate as imperatives requiring states to behave in accordance with certain principles. Donnelly (1986) has called this form or regime ‘‘promotional’’ instead of ‘‘enforcing. the creation and adoption of a large number of legally binding Covenants and Conventions can be seen as a process of strengthening the international human rights regime (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 2010). transnational and independent domestic norm creation are not within the scope of analysis. norm realization is left to each sovereign state that commits to the regime. intergovernmental cooperation in human rights regimes is about negotiating universally acceptable norms. Thus. norms and rules. procedures and programs that govern the interactions of actors in specific issue areas’’ (Levy. I suggest that the two perspectives read together make us aware of the precarious influence of norms in an international world of states and of the multilayered process that norm internalization constitutes. and that transnational and domestic dynamics are crucially important steps—or stumbling blocks—on this path as well. they help create a common social world by fixing the meaning of behaviour’’ (Kratochwil and Ruggie quoted in Hasenclever. it conceptualizes global norm creation and appropriation as an open process of negotiation in which various actors are involved. the CEDAW Convention can be called a women’s rights regime with both regulative and constitutive dimensions5 (Kardam 2004). and Charlesworth (1995). This debate has clarified a number of important connections and dynamics. not by international interference or even pressure. and Global Norm Diffusion Within IR. According to Kratochwil and Ruggie. As many violations of women’s rights are rooted in sociocultural traditions and perpetrators are often nonstate actors. The transnational perspective—which I consider more comprehensive—does not assume a causal relationship between international and domestic norms.116 How Do Norms Travel? path to the realization of these rights. Young. Both approaches help to conceptualize the impact of CEDAW and assume an international-to-domestic cause-effect logic. In light of these definitions. Unlike in trade or security regimes. Binion (1995). Rather. International Regimes: Mechanisms of Cheap Legitimacy or Complex Learning? A brainchild of the Cold War regime analysis emerged as a counterdiscourse to the assumption that international cooperation is epiphenomenal to state interests and global power constellations (Krasner 1983). the field of women’s rights has been constructed as a ‘‘domestic affair’’ more than others. The constructive dialog between the committee of experts and state delegations and the committee’s interpretations of CEDAW provisions (called ‘‘General Recommendations’’) can be interpreted as a continuous effort to create a shared understanding of the meaning of women’s rights.6 states notoriously implement 5 The regulative dimension is expressed in the fact that states have to comply with the treaty provisions and that they are monitored in this endeavor. which are concluded because non-cooperation would ‘‘[leave] each state worse off than it might have otherwise been’’ (Krasner 1995:139). and Zurn 1995:274). non-governmental actors are also seen as influential players in domestic norm internalization. It sheds light on the influence of internationally authoritative norms on state behavior next to self-interests and material power.’’ While the promotional dimension of the human rights regime has gotten stronger. The global norm diffusion perspective—which I partly draw on and partly reject as too one-dimensional—has been mostly developed within the discipline of IR. International Regimes. as causes that produce effects within domestic contexts (or fail to do so). 6 If the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 is taken as a starting point. once established. the paper expounds three major constellations of gender norm translation that are relevant to understanding CEDAW and its possible repercussions (section three). the question of impact of international human rights norms has mostly been dealt with by scholars interested in regime analysis or global norm diffusion. international regimes have a regulative and a constitutive dimension. International regimes can be defined as ‘‘social institutions consisting of agreed upon principles. that is. 1995:271). Mayer. the two cru¨ cial elements of regimes are the quality of setting stable rules and the focus on a specific issue area. national. two different perspectives are presented that are useful to theorize the impact of international women’s rights norms. nisms of international cooperation between states. While the state is considered the most relevant actor in implementing international norms within domestic contexts. such violations were long seen as a problem to be solved by incremental change from within a given society. norms.

others might not. the more they . the expert committee’s attitude is supportive if sometimes critical. and designs treaty compliance as a process of joint problem solving. CEDAW as a women’s rights regime establishes rules of permissible behavior in a certain issue area. rather than an offence to be punished’’ (Chayes and Chayes 1995:26). 7 Studies that reach such a conclusion often rest on the assumption that the states of the world can be divided into two camps. States are conceptualized as principally open to learn and eager to become respectable and legitimate members of the international community. The latter group is usually equaled with Western liberal democracies. states agree to eliminate direct and indirect forms of discrimination against women in any field of life. Moravcsik 1995. but hardly ever confrontational. treaties are attractive for states if they offer the opportunity for complex learning (Nye 1987). The attitude of state delegations strongly varies in commitment. the European human rights regime is considered the ‘‘best case’’ because of a shared cultural background of member states. legal. and sometimes discover their interests’’ (Chayes and Chayes 1995:4). To appreciate the commitment of the state to work for gender equality. the political predisposition to adhere to human rights (Donnelly 1986.Susanne Zwingel 117 human rights norms only superficially or fail to implement them altogether. as the idea of the regime is to deal with ‘‘a problem to be solved by mutual consultation and analysis. Thus. Boli. The Optional Protocol added in 2000 allows for individual complaints and independent inquiries accusing a state of violating its responsibilities under the Convention. however. Meyer. The CEDAW Convention is a non-coercive mechanism except for the expert committee’s option to publicly voice criticism for insufficient state performance. The neoliberal position assumes that states ratify human rights treaties not necessarily because they intend to implement them. but because they seek a way to increase their international legitimacy without significant costs. American or European) attitude toward an international regime. The attitude of states can. fosters complex learning. Not surprisingly. A constructivist regime analysis suggests that CEDAW may have international and domestic impact because it is a concrete part of a broader normative framework. and Meyer 2008). All in all. Contrary to the assumption that states break treaties whenever this seems to serve their interests. for example. Some states have limited their responsibilities under CEDAW by entering substantial reservations to the treaty. namely those that tactically use human rights and those that have some intrinsic understanding of and propensity to implement them. While some states might have a genuine interest in problem solving through international regimes. A third position suggests that a mix between the first two comes closest to reality. Concrete cooperation mechanisms potentially strengthen international community building and contribute to establishing shared values (Henkin 1990. the respect of governments for human rights and the existence of autonomous civil societies (Moravcsik 1995). The normative triad enshrined in CEDAW is elimination of discrimination against women. redefine. to avoid free-riding and to offer the option of joint problem solving. achievement of gender equality. It can be interpreted as an element of ‘‘soft pressure’’ or an incentive to comply with CEDAW in order to prevent costs (Smith 2006). Both neoliberal and constructivist approaches underestimate the power structures underlying international regimes. however. Cortell and Davis 2000). the number and strength of domestic players that oppose compliance (Dai 2005. from meaningful to superficial problem solving to manipulation or rejection of women’s rights. In other words. among others. either because they are considered weak (read: not backed by material power) or because the focus is on joint problem solving. The neoliberal position. and private forms of discrimination such as family relations in which women have an inferior status. and state responsibility. The reason for this is that ‘‘(m)odern treaty making … can be seen as a creative enterprise through which the parties … explore. for example. The more these rules are supported. Important factors are. However. Tsutsui. Often. the European human rights regime is effective primarily because it contains legal enforcement mechanisms (HafnerBurton 2005:603). the attitude of different domestic constituencies toward human rights (Cardenas 2007). Hafner-Burton. and Ramirez 1997). Cardenas 2007). the states—scholars have articulated a variety of views regarding the transformative potential of human rights regimes. posits that the Convention’s lack of coercion or incentives produces a significant number of free-riding states. regimes that offer both coercive and managerial elements are more likely to produce a high level of compliance (Tallberg 2002).7 The constructivist position emphasizes the constitutive dimension of human rights regimes. Thomas. This responsibility contains both public. From a neoliberal position. Several studies suggest that state characteristics are explanatory factors for the influence of human rights regimes and the variety of compliance behavior. this position observes a strong propensity of states to stick to international agreements. Depending on different assumptions regarding the potential compliers—that is. regime analysis suggests that CEDAW may provoke a variety of state responses. this position has characterized human rights treaties as ‘‘weak’’ and ‘‘ineffective’’ because they neither exert any pressure on states nor offer them incentives for compliance (Schwarz 2004. Neumayer 2005. by the majority of states and prominent non-governmental organizations. for example. and a regional (for example. be explained by domestic factors. Lack of coercive mechanisms becomes an asset. With ratification. according to the third position.

for example. opening for signature. In the third stage. From this angle. the time between 1979 and 1995. also called cultural match or mismatch. but by the fact that powerful actors approve of it. 9 Notably. however. Rather. the state’s institutions. becomes internationally institutionalized. and ‘‘(d)omestic political institutions (that) … establish rights and obligations. and entering into force of the CEDAW Convention between 1979 and 1981 could be considered norm cascading. For one. many of them based on religious beliefs. If internalization were far reaching or completed. Finally. and often this was done based on religious grounds (Rehof 1993). Salience—or impact—is defined as changes in the national discourse. If internalization is far reaching. She argues that there cannot be a general pattern of norm diffusion into domestic contexts. However. The importance of these roles was nevertheless stressed by delegations participating in the drafting process. In the second stage of norm cascading. While this model is helpful to operationalize global norm diffusion. 1997). norm internalization.9 The adoption. Obviously. those two modes of action suggest very different outcomes of domestic enforcement. A prominent concept developed in this context is Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink’s ‘‘norm life-cycle’’ model (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). actors that are not convinced by its content. not states. the proposal to declare 1975 International Women’s Year came from NGOs. how they become meaningful in domestic contexts. More than the norm life-cycle model. While the ‘‘successful’’ notion may be more in line with the human rights framework. that is. the label ‘‘norm internalization’’ does not pay sufficient attention to the complex and widely differing domestic processes that may take place after governmental recognition of an international norm. Cortell and Davis (2000) have proposed a model to measure the salience of international norms within a given domestic context. CEDAW is seen as one element in the global diffusion of women’s rights norms. global norm diffusion literature asks how norms emerge on the international level. Applied to women’s rights. Savery shows that states are rather reluctant to make normative and institutional changes in regard to gender equality even if they rhetorically approve of the norm and if they generally seem to be abiding to international norms (Germany is used as the prime example here). or. the norm may no longer be a contested or publicly debated issue. the norm is embraced by a critical mass of states. the authors do not differentiate in the norm cascading stage between those states that embrace a norm and those that accept it because of opportunism. it has also caused reservations to the treaty. and is also accepted by the so-called norm followers. if we use widespread ratification of CEDAW. this work allows for the classification of national particularities in response to international norms. inter8 To give one example of the discursive power of CEDAW: The text of the Convention constructs women as autonomous individuals rather than playing a crucial role in society and the family. the domestic factor most relevant for salience is the pre-existing ‘‘domestic discourse (that) provides the context within which the international norm takes on meaning’’ (Cortell and Davis 2000:73). the norm is implemented in domestic settings. norm emergence could be considered the women’s decade starting in 1975. one has to look at the conducive and impeding factors within a state in relation to a particular norm. and resistance to the Convention of various civil society (including women’s) groups all over the world. it is firmly anchored in an international perspective and leaves domestic dynamics of norm creation and appropriation underestimated. It defines norms broadly as intersubjective ‘‘standard(s) of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity’’ (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998:891) and determines three stages a norm has to go through to become globally pervasive: The first stage is global norm emergence where norm entrepreneurs—often non-governmental actors—make relevant actors and the general public aware of a certain norm. According to the authors. to understand the (lack of) diffusion of global gender equality . the authors’ perspective is still inspired by a globalto-national cause-effect logic. Drawing on four case studies. the compatibility of the norm with the material interests of the state or influential interest groups (see also Cardenas 2007). ¨ nalization of women’s rights norms has only happened in a scattered fashion. in state bureaucracies.118 How Do Norms Travel? unfold disciplining power and marginalize deviant perceptions (Keeley 1990). Perhaps more crucially. In response to this deficit and to better understand the various ways of domestic support for international institutions. some of which were first reluctant toward the idea (Pietila and Vickers 1996:76). Savery’s attempt to explain why international norms of sexual non-discrimination have diffused unevenly and in a relatively limited way adds a few interesting insights on global norm diffusion from a domestic angle (Savery 2007). however. norm internalization would entail all gender equality measures created in domestic contexts in direct or indirect reaction to these international dynamics. and the prominence of the World Women’s Conferences as the criteria for cascading. … and … help national actors define their interests’’ (Cortell and Davis 2000:79).8 On Trickle-Down Assumptions and Boomerang Patterns: Global Norm Diffusion Revisited Inspired by the ‘‘world culture’’ idea of the international society approach (Meyer et al. and the state’s policies in reaction to the norm. the Convention’s increased international visibility. gender equality would be largely achieved and the idea would not anymore be contested. Her explanation for this finding is that ‘‘the gender-biased corporate identity of many states represents the most significant barrier to diffusion’’ of sexual non-discrimination norms (Savery 2007:1). This gender-biased identity takes different forms for different states in different historical settings. and which actors are promoting and translating them.

the study concludes that global norms and institutions make a difference for the quality of life and status of women. For further large-scale studies that try to determine factors that influence the enjoyment of women’s rights worldwide. Usually. and Sikkink (1999). have explained the mushrooming of national women’s policy agencies as a result of transnational advocacy for the global norm of gender equality (Mintrom and True 2001). yet parts of regional and international Intergovernmental Organizations and of state institutions may also be involved. Ropp. In other words. They highlight the ability of TANs to ‘‘mobilize information strategically to help create new issues and categories and to persuade. However. with CEDAW ratification being ‘‘the most consistently important factor’’ (Gray et al. but also action that reinforces gender biases. these studies show that. and if it is unequivocal who bears responsibility for the denounced problem. namely that of a historically grown domestic gender regime. TANs emerge most likely if civil society claims are blocked by a state and if transnational cooperation seems likely to strengthen these claims and cause what Keck and Sikkink call a ‘‘boomerang pattern’’ (Keck and Sikkink 1998:12). female literacy rate. Simmons concludes that the impact of CEDAW is noteworthy. Based on a data set of 180 states between 1975 and 2000. NGOs play a central role in TANs. TANs may be very effective in putting pressure on reluctant governments to comply with 11 The right to life as understood by the authors contains freedom from extra-judicial execution. and the motivations of norm opponents to modify their opposition still need to be investigated and interpreted. political secularism. While it is admitted that there is ‘‘evidence of indirect path connections between … women’s levels of literacy. These findings are valuable because they provide statistical evidence for global gender norm 10 The influence of economic globalization on domestic gender equality policies is also measured. 2006:326). while a general trend seems to be verified. Their positive assessment even comes as a surprise given the cautious estimations of other analysts regarding possible repercussions of international agreements in general and women’s rights norms in particular. and Sandholtz (2006) ask if rising levels of international connectedness have improved the status of women worldwide. and gain leverage over much more powerful organizations and governments’’ (Keck and Sikkink 1998:2). disappearance.10 Two studies find that CEDAW in particular has a strong and direct impact within domestic contexts: Gray. Similarly. Sweeney (2004) finds in a comparative study of 160 states that a government’s respect for women’s economic. in giving an overview of domestic trends. Simmons (2009) finds that CEDAW ratification has had a significant effect on state commitment related to gender equality in education and providing access to modern forms of birth control. see the studies by Poe. Another important focus of the norm diffusion literature is the identification of concrete actor constellations that engage in creating and spreading norms. WendelBlunt. the most relevant context factors. female share in the labor force. institutionalize norms that reinforce gender hierarchies or differentiation. a change of state behavior through the joint effort of domestic and transnational actors. the strategies of pro-norm actors. that is. the specific dynamics of each domestic success story. for example. social. but results are found to more ambivalent. diffusion. (1999) suggest that the acceptance of authoritarian regimes of the right to life11 ‘‘crucially depends on the establishment and the sustainability of networks among domestic and transnational actors who manage to link up with international regimes. and arbitrary arrest and detention (Risse and Sikkink 1999:2). and representation in parliament’’ (Gray et al. not structural problems. the authors find that all four of their dependent variables—female life expectancy. and political rights is directly linked to democracy. One consequence of this analytical framework is to include not only state action that enhances gender equality into measuring norm diffusion. but ‘‘(s)ocial and religious beliefs can be difficult barriers to (its) full implementation’’ (Simmons 2009:253). by now. whereas CEDAW ratification figures as one element of interconnectedness. as a consequence. . and that. tried to measure their impact cross-nationally. Keck and Sikkink (1998) take a closer look at these transnational advocacy networks (TANs) and find them to be concrete motors of transnational normative change. a number of studies have. The data stresses the role of women’s organizations in bringing these Convention principles to life. The focus on transnational actor constellations and in particular the potential of nonstate actors is highly relevant for theorizing repercussions of CEDAW. labor force participation. 2006:321). and Keck and Sikkink (1998) have found transnational non-governmental activism in strategic cooperation with governments (Risse et al. Kittilson. Mintrom and True. and Ho (1997) and Apodaca (1998). In particular. This can most successfully be achieved through campaigns that target concrete. As a consequence of the international presence of women’s rights norms. it is crucial to understand the specific domestic power constellations that create and maintain a normative fabric that compound sexual non-discrimination. pressure. and the internationalization of human rights norms. 1999) or transnational advocacy networks (Keck and Sikkink 1998) to be powerful ‘‘norm translators.’’ Risse et al. and percentage of women in parliament—positively correlate with CEDAW ratification. to alert Western public opinion and Western governments’’ (Risse and Sikkink 1999:5). Thus. she adds a new dimension of specifying state behavior in reaction to international gender norms.Susanne Zwingel 119 norms. Risse. but not how international norms have unfolded meaning. The most effective weapon of TANs is to create credible information and to frame it in a way that puts pressure on governments to act.

it is not the only one. it is assumed that CEDAW can be used in domestic contexts as a tool to improve the de-facto situation of women. (authoritarian) states that need to be socialized into desirable behavior. paralyzing effect. the only interest they have is that the boomerang hits the norm violator. or that domestic ‘‘traditions’’ are obstacles to the achievement of women’s rights (Simmons 2009). Thus. they refer to those rights that are clear to liberal states. Accordingly. however. Most components of the human rights framework are subject to a wide range of interpretations to which all actors contribute. This view would help to undermine the dichotomous view of us (culturefree women’s rights proponents) vs. Instead. each state is perceived as representing a mix of various value systems that all have the potential to overlap with and differ from global norms. I conceptualize women’s rights norms as contentious in realization despite the almost universal ratification of CEDAW. for example gender-related rights in the field of employment12. Risse and Sikkink (1999:8) admit that their definition of the right to life is a crucial component for liberal states’ self-construction of moral integrity—thus. (1999) focus on the right to life as the core of human rights. it is necessary to understand the international human rights framework as an evolving concept. unless a small set of norms is selected to represent the framework as a whole. and from which all actors also deviate. this actorfocused literature on global norm diffusion rests on at least three problematic assumptions: First. However. when Risse et al. evolving. To expand this argument of the ambiguity of global norms beyond the human rights framework. and ambiguous. First. Some notions have significantly changed over time. second. that it is accurate to think of a norm-abiding international community versus a number of deviant states that need to be socialized into desirable behavior. other ideas have been only recently formulated based on new experiences of injustice. that human rights are unequivocally defined. In this constellation. and that women’s rights norms have to compete with other normative settings. if to varying degrees. or the right to cultural and material survival of peoples. the typical actor constellation in global norm diffusion literature juxtaposes the normviolating government with the joint action of the norm-advocating transnational networks and a norm-abiding international community. Finally. for example. expressed in torture or arbitrary executions. all involved actors are norm proponents with identifiable interests within certain power relations. that the Convention is a useful. for example. it is simplistic to think of a norm-abiding international community of (liberal) states and a number of deviant 12 In the late 1960s. if international human rights norms are broad. it is likewise possible that a state is in favor of implementing international norms and is hindered by transnational or domestic civil society organizations. States are not divided into norm-abiding liberals and non-liberal norm violators. The power relations within these dynamics need to be considered. but not infallible guide in this endeavor. it is not assumed that ratification per se produces impact. and third. 2006). the specific characteristics of transnational networks may either empower local constituencies or have a patronizing. state institutions that have been built to strengthen the norm diffusion potential of CEDAW. we often find the assumption that the global discourse provides a set of progressive norms to improve backward cultural practices that discriminate against women. Berkovitch 1999). and they may be particularly suited to translate international women’s rights norms into domestic contexts. As domestic processes of norm appropriation are considered crucial for social change. that a number of domestic characteristics enhance women’s rights realization. . In the field of women’s rights.120 How Do Norms Travel? the CEDAW provisions. them (tradition-bound misogynists). define the right to life as access to appropriate nutrition. They do not. Following the boomerang metaphor. This changed in the 1970s. international human rights norms are far from unequivocal. whereas in reality the framework is evolving and not all dimensions are equally accepted. Second. For example. For instance. TANs are considered free from selfinterest. collective rights or sexual identity rights. clean water and health-care services. several studies have shown that trade liberalization and structural adjustment programs—arguably very strong international norms with enforcement mechanisms attached—have effects that violate several dimensions of human rights (Ewelukwa 2005. Instead of taking this liberal bias as a starting point. it has to be acknowledged that many international norms are not consistent with human rights standards. when several ILO studies showed that special treatment reinforced discrimination against women if it was not strictly confined to childbearing and reproductive capacities (McKean 1983:187. they frame it as the right to be free from arbitrary governmental interference as. Also. and to a certain extent. For example. however. Abouharb and Cingranelli 2006). it seems that instead of referring to a clear core set of international human rights. parts of international organizations. that non-governmental organizations are altruistic norm advocates vis-a-vis self-interested gov` ernments. precisely because these notions are not as unequivocally accepted by ‘‘liberal states’’—their equivalent of the international community. While this is indeed a possible actor constellation. to conceive of both domestic and global norm creation as a highly contextualized process immersed in ‘‘culture’’ (Merry 2003. Based on this discussion of global norm diffusion literature. The concept of transnational advocacy helps identify network structures consisting of transnational and domestic NGOs. international experts. It is more appropriate. special treatment for women in the workforce due to their physical differences was considered a desirable protective measure.

national. and anthropological literature for some time (Massey 1994. Jackson. Hannerz (1996) argues that the power of globalization notwithstanding. and Dwyer 2004a. inflections. abstractconcrete. and traditional (Massey 2005:101).and actor-dependent influence among others. at deconstructing the notion that it has a far reaching scope vis-a-vis rather limited ‘‘national’’ and ` ‘‘local’’ contexts.Susanne Zwingel 121 De-Centering the Global—A Transnational View on International Women’s Rights The driving motivation of the previous approaches was to identify dynamics that allow us to assume effects of global discourses and international institutions within national contexts. while not necessarily territorially bound. Crang. and above the formerly dominant national society paradigm’’ (Pries 2004:53). this idea can be read as a counterargument to the idea of global norm cascading discussed in the previous section. 2004b:5). the powerful and homogenizing influence of globalization is questioned. Vertovec 1999. we have come to see these spheres as separate and hierarchical: the global is associated with abstract and powerful concepts such as ‘‘space. the emergence of a transnational public renders any strictly bounded sense of locality obsolete. The second half of this paper aims at de-centering ‘‘the global. and as always under construction (Massey 2005:10). Thus. and contesting gender norms with many possible outcomes in many possible venues. communications. but it is not perceived as limited or isolated. thus. we are looking at a transnational assemblage of negotiating. They examine how gender norms are formulated. nor the everyday life situations in which women’s rights are supposed to work are conceptually separate from each other or ever fixed in meaning. national. or reject international women’s rights norms. It suggests that the homogenizing effects of global trends destroy local specificities and thus render space meaningless. In contrast to globalization that refers to processes of worldwide spanning of international transactions. and it is interaction through which socio-geographical spaces are created. there is always room for transformation and contestation. Alternatively. it is argued that even the strongest global forces are subject to local 13 This expression has become a famous label for globalization. is such a strong social dimension that no homogenizing global influence would ever be able to ‘‘annihilate’’ its specificity. At the same time. but precisely (in part) through the specificity of the mix of links and interconnections to that ‘beyond’‘‘ (Massey 1994:5). the re-reading of the homogenizing influence of globalization. This perspective conceptualizes CEDAW as a highly context. This view allows a reciprocal. nor the national apparatus that has made a commitment to implement them. Three elements out of this debate seem crucial for theorizing the resonance of the CEDAW Convention: the concept of global. that global influences are stronger on national and local contexts than vice versa.’’13 transnationalization emphasizes the growing importance of ‘‘new trans. and Dwyer (2004b) conceptualize transnationality as border-crossing relationships. Rather. Pries 2004. transnationalization creates a new understanding of the meaning and interrelatedness of global. as the possibility of the existence of multiplicity and plurality. this vision is inadequate. but recognize the ‘‘continuing power of nation-states in defining the framework … within which transnational social relations take place’’ (Jackson et al. Instead of assuming that globalization processes unfold homogenizing forces.’’ or ‘‘history. and that these spheres should be thought of as separate and qualitatively different in the first place. In a way. Due to powerful discourses of modernity. Crang. Hannerz 1996. this understanding of mutually constitutive situatedness suggests that neither the global set of norms that CEDAW represents. Pries describes transnationalization as a dynamic of internationalization that stands for ‘‘different forms of rearrangements of geographical–social spaces beyond. concreteness and interrelatedness is part of all interaction.and pluri-local configurations which encompass and span traditional container spaces’’ (Pries 2004:59). for example. not hierarchical understanding of how different sites of action interrelate with and constitute each other (see also Grewal and Kaplan 1994). He argues that ‘‘the local’’ as the site of everyday life. I first introduce a few elements out of the interdisciplinary debate on transnationalization to challenge some globalocentric assumptions.’’ ‘‘capital. Jackson. and local spheres. alongside. limited. a situated context is ‘‘constructed not by placing boundaries around it and defining its identity through counter-position to the other which lies beyond. At the same time. living. not as the predominant (international) cause of (domestic) effects. national.’’ while the local is linked to the concrete. 2005). Rethinking Space: Three Useful Elements of Transnational Theorizing Transnationality and transnationalization are phenomena that have been scrutinized by sociological. geographical. According to geographer Doreen Massey. Second. First. and local interrelatedness. and under which conditions and in which constellations actors decide to use. she thinks of space as a product of interrelations. and the rejection of the local as culturally bounded. space is considered crucial for social analysis. and social practices that are often associated with the ‘‘annihilation of space. reinterpret. and sensual bodily experience. and local (for example. To better capture the interrelation between global and . Second. Applied to CEDAW.’’ that is. face-to-face interaction. I provide a closer look at transnational feminist approaches. how they are translated between different contexts. This vision abandons the assumption of a qualitative difference between global. powerful-victimized) and replaces it with the understanding of situatedness of all action.

As a result. Finally. but a concrete question that has to be negotiated in different spaces differently. Anthropological studies on legal transnationalism claim that the production of culture and specificity is always a transnational enterprise. Two main ideas here are important for a decentered analysis of CEDAW. not only the other way round. culture is identified as the main source of women’s rights violations. in the homogenizing cultural politics of states. but a constantly evolving. in the context of global center-periphery relationships’’ (Hannerz 1996:67). Massey comes to the conclusion that the protests did not simply constitute a defense of local essentialism. most normative messages that the women receive within their everyday life suggest they are not rights holders and have to endure the violence if necessary.’’ Thus. Rather. National.’’ An illustration may be useful here: Anthropologist Sally Engle Merry (2006) describes. there are always trickle-up next to trickle-down processes. The second idea is the importance of negotiating what should be part of a situated context from the perspective of those who create this context through interaction. the women are basically trying to survive according to all the other. he uses the concept of ‘‘creolization. and Local Agency Feminist transnational scholarship is a reaction to and reflection of global women’s activism (Meyer and Prugl 1999. not only a disempowered one. As Ruppert (2001) observes. the embrace of the instrument by national governments could be seen as the opening of a domestic debate on gender norms that should ideally include as many constituencies as possible. the notion of the local as sufficiently powerful to contest the homogenizing influence of globalization helps us see the complexity and variety of the many possible processes of ‘‘norm implementation. that the women often cannot internalize the idea that they have the right to live a life free from violence. and what they term harmful cultural practices all as culturally produced positions that overlap to a greater or lesser extent with each other. but with restructuring the view of what is globally relevant—most importantly. While power relations are at play. how closed or open they want it to be to outside influences. state representatives and non-governmental organizations. the notion of local as a demarcated site of cultural purity is misleading. it is always the culture of the others (Merry 2003). and does not ‘‘fit’’ with everything else the women have learned to be ‘‘right. In her discussion of the protests of French farmers against imported beef. battered women often refrain from pursuing their rights. Those who inhabit and shape a locality determine what its characteristics are. the normative ‘‘filling’’ of a locale is not a matter of abstract legitimacy. codified in law and promoted by judicial institutions. . there is also a need to think about localized influences on the production of the global. these varying positions of power imply that any space is under constant negotiation. In Massey’s view. may be relieving. but it is also confusing. transnational influences can be identified as traditional (read: always existing) forces in the creation of culture (Sen 1999:242). This understanding is opposed to a static and dividing notion of culture as it is often constructed in the field of women’s rights and even in the CEDAW process: many times. the discourse between committee experts. A Transnational Feminist Reconfiguration of International. Creolization creates a continuum of possible mixtures which implies different levels of prestige and inequality. Thus. The production of ‘‘customary law’’ through the colonial presence of ‘‘civil law’’ shows this dynamic: customary law is not a finalized product of pre-colonial times that endured colonization. Feminist scholarship started from a similar point of departure. but at its margins. On the contrary. it should not be understood as an indisputable international measuring stick. Taking this relevance of lived norms seriously suggests that any resonance of international women’s rights norms is highly contingent on how and by whom they are weaved into the prevalent normative context. First. As Merry shows. Thus. or even what they consider outside influence and what not. For example. Naples and Desai 2002. not rightsbased rules that shape their lives much more powerfully than the law does.’’ It describes ‘‘a combination of diversity. women’s activists have not primarily been concerned with controlling world politics. Thus. The new norm. yet if framed this way. but a position that wanted to be involved in defining ‘‘the nature of the relations of interconnection—the map of power of openness’’ (Massey 2005:171). like the poverty-stricken village or the decaying industrial city. for example. Friedman ¨ 2003).122 How Do Norms Travel? local meanings. the diverse living situations of women and the need to fight social injustice based on gender hierarchies and other hegemonic structures. I suggest that it is more appropriate to understand the Convention itself. transnationalization also reminds us that the idea of the local as culturally bounded and unambiguous is misleading. necessary opposite to the creation of civil law in the project of colonialism (Wilson 1996). If we consider CEDAW this way. interconnectedness. While this might appear inconsistent from a legal perspective. namely the criticism of exclusionary androcentric assumptions in IR theorizing. and innovation. global feminist activism did not materialize within the centers of power. interest-driven entities engage in international cooperation neglects the fact that states interests are usually shaped by a male political elite that tends to exclude the views of the non-male and the non-elites (Peterson 1990). It represents a vision of contextualized self-determination that no idea or norm negotiated ‘‘somewhere’’ should be closed to further negotiation when applied ‘‘elsewhere’’. in a study on battered women in the locality of Hawaii. the notion that states as gender-neutral. Massey adds to this ‘‘trickleup’’ perspective in reminding us of the power of ‘‘thriving globality-producing locales’’ (Massey 2005:102) like London or Tokyo: The local can be a hegemonic site.

however. has to be understood as ambivalent. In the concept of transnational feminism as spelled out by Grewal and Kaplan (1994). women exposed to multiple hierarchies did not feel represented by the language of their ‘‘Western sisters’’ who were ‘‘only’’ exploited because of their gender. In accordance with the previously presented core assumptions of transnationality. their perspective resists thinking in hierarchical binaries and under14 The notion of global feminism has allegedly produced such a homogenizing assumption: When the term ‘‘global sisterhood’’ was first articulated by Western feminists (Morgan 1984). evolutionary. 15 For Grewal (2008). professional NGOs. ‘‘the international’’ is hardly an object of international scrutiny. human rights. Western women.16 16 Arguably. population. but most intensely during the 1990s. international human rights law addresses only one dimension of gender hierarchies. It is fair to say that since the 1970s. Thus. basically. and nationality. gender relations are shaped by ‘‘scattered hegemonies’’ simultaneously consisting of ‘‘global economic structures. in addition. In the meantime. the new terminology reflects the understanding that border-crossing activism in the name of women is not by default empowering for women. these networks have grown and made their voices heard in a wide range of global fields like development. complicate agency positions. ethnicity. stands all cultural contexts as hybrids consisting of multiple and overlapping norms and sources of agency. the normative signal coming from international institutions is not consistent. as the ‘‘obsession with nation-states and the continued exclusion of international institutions. Naples 2002). For example. de-essentialize and. a feminist perspective is developed that challenges the foundations of modernity in ‘‘its colonial discourses and hegemonic First World Formations’’ (Grewal and Kaplan 1994:2). In her analysis of the impact of trade and human rights norms on African women. Moghadam 2005). ‘‘transnational feminism’’ emphasizes the contextualized diversity of women’s struggles. with the distinction that they are more forcefully implemented. To use this feminist transnational lens for an analysis of CEDAW repercussions means to de-homogenize. In short. see also definitions of transnationalization above). What could international institutions and agreements. not only are international human rights norms much less present in women’s daily lives than international free trade norms. namely the one produced by nationally bound customary law. international institutions. and it contains the message that there is no beyond-the-state producer of evils to be addressed. race. a ‘‘bold reinterpretation of international human rights norms’’ (Ewelukwa 2005:83) is imperative. the question is not whether transnational networks are empowering. for example. rather. it is a form of connectivity that can be filled in different ways (Grewal 2008). Third World feminists criticized it because in their view it meant that global solidarity among women based solely on their gender obscured other forms of discrimination based on class.Susanne Zwingel 123 ‘‘Transnational feminism’’ is a more recent term than ‘‘international’’ or ‘‘global feminism’’ (Mackie 2001). for example. Within global hegemonies and transnational cultural flows.15 Another difference between ‘‘global’’ and ‘‘transnational feminism’’ is that the latter keeps the relevance of nations and nationality in place and at the same time points to activism crossing national boundaries and thus transforming the concept of the nation-state (Mackie 2001. This tendency is. Thus. It does not assume similar needs and interests of a global ‘‘womankind’’14 and analyzes ‘‘power relations and inequalities (that) reside in all feminisms’’ (Grewal 2008:191): Feminist activism may develop alternatives to global hegemonies as a form of solidarity across class. and legal-juridical oppression on multiple levels’’ (Grewal and Kaplan 1994:17). ‘‘authentic’’ forms of tradition. between international donors. this controversy has led to a more understanding cross-cultural dialog (Moghadam 2005). but it is even more accurate if we consider the entirety of global regimes and treaties. In Ewelukwa’s view. They infringe on the socioeconomic rights of the majority of women in Africa in various ways and thus add to domestic discriminatory structures—in Grewal’s and Kaplan’s terminology. expressed in the appointment of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. including hegemonic feminisms. While the notion of ‘‘global feminism’’ focuses on the influence of women’s organizations within statedominated international policy arenas. the local becomes a multifaceted context that contains the potential of reformulation. The latter two describe the practice of women’s organizations from diverse parts of the world establishing transnational networks and pushing gender issues on the international agenda. the statecenteredness of the system is not challenged. had an interest in this subordination because they were (knowingly or not) complicit in the production of these hierarchies (Mohanty 2003:106). Ewelukwa (2005) makes this point very clear: free trade agreements are international norms as much a human rights. culture. in the ‘‘nodes’’ of transnational feminist advocacy. The state. and other nonstate actors from the scrutiny’’ ignores the most pertinent violations of women’s rights (Ewelukwa 2005:141). constructed as the sovereign international entity. there is a recent tendency within the international human rights framework to address other-than-state actors and hold them accountable. religion is predominantly shaped as a source of oppression. patriarchal nationalisms. and national borders (Desai 2002. and grass root organizations (Alvarez 1999). remains primarily responsible for the realization of human rights. gender hierarchies are ‘‘scattered’’ around in domestic and international hegemonic institutions. and security policies (Desai 2002. The hegemonic dimension of cultural flows notwithstanding. and often sending incompatible normative signals. but it may as well reproduce existing inequalities. transnational corporations. and non-governmental organizations look like from this angle? The first actor position. Many women who fight for the improvement of their status and see their religious believes as important part of their lives are therefore not part of such networks. This is already true if we look at one area alone. but which kind of information they transport. However. . Thus. not the one that is a result of international free trade regimes. local structures of domination. states.

NGOs may as well be part of a hegemonic international coalition of international organizations. that is. heterogeneous modernity (Clifford 1997:2). The more NGOs are anchored in international discourses and funding. who thinks of traveling as a metaphor for an unfinished. Finke (2005). While all states dispose of a legitimate monopoly of power and sovereignty in principle. for example. states have to be understood as historically contextualized political entities embodying a broad variety of possible attitudes and reactions to international gender norms. and distorted translation. Their engagement is often conditional.124 How Do Norms Travel? Second. and Islamic discourses. The first formation—global discourse translation—contains what norm diffusion literature calls norm creation. Third. In cases where international funding creates NGOs. homogenizing domestic impact. impact translation. three constellations of transnational gender norm formations are considered particularly relevant for the analysis of CEDAW repercussions: I have labeled them global discourse translation. Alvarez 2000). in the colonial encounter. and social welfare. states are exposed to contradictory normative claims: Kardam (2004) shows for the Turkish state how different gender orders have been constructed by nationalist. the question of legitimacy is even more prevalent and acceptance of such organizations often remarkably low (Bagic 2006). activism out of different contexts to influence inter. from global to national or local to national. States do have a controlling. this controlling power does not necessarily reach very far into the peripheries of the collective. NGOs have become more and more the result of an international ‘‘pro-NGO norm’’ (Reiman 2006:45). in principle. whereas diffusion assumes a oneway influence from global to non-global. powerful governments. and NGOs as not inherently legitimate norm entrepreneurs help to understand the complexities in which transnational feminist activism is situated. Feminists have conceptualized states both as institutions that perpetuate hierarchical gender orders and as important agents for gender equality (Tickner 2001:120). Based on the insights of a large number of empirical studies on transnational feminist networks. I use the term ‘‘translation’’ here instead of ‘‘diffusion’’ because translation implies that differently contextualized norms may be translated into another realm. not all are powerful actors or pursue their interests coherently. intergovernmental organizations and affluent democratic states make their financial support for developing states dependent on these states’ acceptance of ‘‘NGOs as partners and critics’’ (Reiman 2006:62). instead of being norm entrepreneurs by themselves. and in any power hierarchy between cultures. Because of the centrality of the state in regulating family relations. However. ´ Finally. or activists’ use of such institutions to create transnational links and strategies of action. is such an appropriation of meaning likely to occur (Chambers 2006). yet the term also includes unevenness—mutual enrichment is possible as much as subordination. and how international and EU-based supranational normative frameworks have added another layer of understanding gender norms. numerous studies have shown the relative weakness of least developed states facing international financial and trade institutions and the infringement of state sovereignty this implies (Fall 2001). it is a key institutional actor for the implementation gender norms of whatever nature (Moghadam 2005:200). in forming the political identity of the collective (Tickner 2001) or in creating a corporate gendered identity (Savery 2007). Arguably. I use the term ‘‘norm translation’’ here to allow different avenues of cross-cultural encounters and transmissions of meaning. and donor organizations that impose ‘‘liberal democratic and neo-liberal economic policies which by many in the developing world are seen as nothing more than colonizing projects’’ (Kamrani 2007:4). In particular. Three Main Constellations of Traveling Gender Norms17 The re-construction of international norms as components of a rather contradictory ‘‘web of meaning. I borrow this term from James Clifford. For example. ‘‘Translation’’ is a term that has been critically discussed in anthropological literature as it is such a constituent part of that discipline—the researcher has to convert both cultural concepts and the transmitters of these concepts such as language and customs into his or her own system of meaning to enable cross-cultural understanding (Rubel and Rossman 2003). This is particularly true for NGOs that receive international funding for operations within developing countries. modernist. legitimate) norm advocates that persuade or put moral pressure on powerful state actors. Joachim (2007). . and Reilly (2009) among others describe how transnationally 17 The term ‘‘travel’’ is used to underline the notion of norms as nonstatic. but on-the-way and continuously exposed to new influences. for example.or supranational institutions. Thus. that is. but as Hannerz (1996) convincingly shows. not completed. Antrobus (2004). secularist. This is a complicated and open-ended endeavor: While some have pointed to the enriching dimension of the encounter with the other in which change of one’s own mindset is possible and desirable. While such an agency position is certainly observable. others have underlined the manipulative potential of translation where the language and culture into which something is being translated forms the standard to which the other is being adapted. reproductive rights. the more they may cause fragmentation within domestic movements between those with and without transnational ties (Friedman 1999. it would be simplifying to frame them predominantly as (rather altruistic and. given the heterogeneity of existing NGOs.’’ states as not inherently sovereign. NGOs may form precisely to resist international norms and foster a culture of domestic counter-hegemony.

the smaller becomes its local support basis. but also other ‘‘currencies’’ such as authenticity and material resources.Susanne Zwingel 125 connected women’s organizations managed to integrate gender norms into the agendas of different UN branches. Insights in this regard . Caglar (2009) traces strategies ¸ ˘ employed by networks of feminist economists to push a gendered perspective into the work of the World Bank. liberation theology and experiences of colonization in Peru. Rather. the purpose of doing this is to challenge existing belief systems. To give just two examples: Thayer (2010) shows how four different actors—Western donor organizations. and a rural Brazilian women’s organization—form a transnational constellation in which gender norms. refers either to activism in which international norms play only an indirect role. and visible (Zwingel 2005). The third constellation. Jamal explains the complex Pakistani context of a failed modernist-developmental state project replaced by authoritarianism and Islamization that makes it difficult to take normative sides. The second formation—impact translation—means agency that uses international gender norms to influence domestic gender regimes and is situated in and complicated by multiple other normative and material settings. a vacuum that can be filled by increased international support. an urban Brazilian feminist NGO. so that only parts of them that are likely to resonate are being promoted (Rajaram and Zararia 2009). Another example is TanakaNaji’s analysis of the incremental. but into culturally understandable and acceptable norms. but use their autonomous understanding of necessary social change to decide which gender norms they want to embrace. Drawing from four different case studies. This. maybe because of the perceived inefficiency of international mechanisms. or they have compartmentalized international norms. However. ‘‘domestication’’ (Rosen and Yoon 2009). they find that translation processes heavily depend on the context 18 Another example in this category is Reilly’s description of the transformative power of international gender norms in Ireland used by transnationally connected Irish women’s rights activists (Reilly 2007). The authors find different types of ‘‘vernacularization. Weiss focuses on the rather reluctant institutional reaction to these international norms that nevertheless contains an element of opening (Weiss 2003). The actors are connected to different degrees. when both nongovernmental women’s organizations and other gender experts have unremittingly worked to make its meaning internationally understood. this insufficient form of translation is called ‘‘contextualization’’ (Liu. The project concludes that the most important and challenging part of vernacularization is to translate an international norm not simply into a legal concept. Socialist and collectivist traditions in China. a suspicious point of reference (Jamal 2005). transnational feminist networks do often not refer in their work to international mechanisms such as CEDAW (Moghadam 2005). but by no means identical ideas about women’s rights (Rehof 1993). some of the translating actors do not attempt to use international norms for legal or social transformation. It seems that border-crossing connections between women’s organizations and international gender norms are not a crucial component for the domestic framing of policy issues. as this context often determines strategies and outcomes. but at the same time profound changes in the Japanese gender order that were produced by transnational women’s networks confronting Japanese institutions and society with international gender norms (Tanaka-Naji 2009). and a civil rights approach to achieving justice in the United States—all these traditions connect in very different ways to global gender equality norms. to international norms that have unintended domestic effects. Gandhian social justice ideas and caste-based practices in India. distorted translation. for example. the members of the rural organization are not recipients of norms. Also. Weiss and Jamal have written about the reaction to international gender norms in the Pakistani context. or to a more obvious disconnect between international and domestic norms. prostitution. an international team of scholars has started to systematically trace what they call ‘‘vernacularization’’ of international gender norms (Levitt and Merry 2009). the widely differing debates on and regulations of issues like abortion. Western feminists. The further a new idea pushes the familiar. It has not been empirically studied so far whether or not this decoupling is explicitly chosen. in the US-American. may lead to de-legitimization within the context that is supposed to be influenced (Levitt and Merry 2009). the NGO has more international contacts than the rural women’s organization. international gender norms are. and equal employment in post-industrialized democracies suggest a centrality of domestic actor constellations (McBride and Mazur 2006). A ‘‘low but supportive’’ level of international influences on domestic contexts has been detected in public gender policy formation in post-industrialized democracies.’’ some of which reach farther than others: in both the Chinese and the US-American case study. Most studies that have analyzed this formation place emphasis on thoroughly characterizing both the actor constellation and the context relevant for the action of translation. accepted. However. in interpreting homosexuality as a practice embraced by Hinduism. in which the norms are being brought. however. for example. and during its 30 years of existence. In the Chinese study. but they adapt the international impulses to the framework already in place. first when it was pushed on the international agenda by governmental actors with overlapping. The CEDAW Convention itself is a piece of such global discourse translation. flow in several directions. Hu. and Liao 2009). More transformative strategies of vernacularization have tried to re-invent local traditions in a new ‘‘international’’ light. despite undisputable power hierarchies. for many women activists.18 In a recent issue of Global Networks. Hence. such cultural translation is confronted with a two-fold dilemma: while it is necessary to root international gender norms into local practices to make them acceptable.

´ Bagic. became altered by modern capitalism into a way of capital accumulation. Thus. within limits. and Human Rights. a number of phenomena can be captured. London: Zed Books. (2004) The Global Women’s Movement: Origins. (1999) Advocating Feminism: The Latin American Feminist NGO ‘‘Boom’’. I would like to question the relativism-universalism dichotomy altogether and suggest that universal principles. to analyze less unequivocal processes of norm production which are arguably the rule and not the exception. the key to norm translation is that gender equality norms are to the largest extent possible cross-culturally negotiated and rather than imposed. Alvarez. Antrobus. For Malaysia. M. rather. to trigger domestic change has also contributed to the fragmentation of domestic movement actors (Friedman 1999. Aida. Conclusion The two debates brought together here both provide insights into the possible repercussions of internationally codified norms. (2000) Translating the Global. (1998) Measuring Women’s Economic and Social Rights Achievement. and distorted translation—that in my view expand our understanding of the resonance of internationally codified norms. The main dynamic for its realization is situated activism that continuously re-reads the meaning of CEDAW in context. and cases of concrete and traceable domestic compliance with an international norm. the second treats global. global norms only resonate in ongoing and collective interpretations and practices. and David L. Foley (2004) describes the low level of legitimacy of the international notion of ‘‘gender equality’’ promoted by transnational women’s networks. The women’s human rights regime consists of normative standards that are. For example. Sonia E. International Studies Quarterly 50: 233–262. Peggy. Organizing. the tradition of marriage with dowry. Alvarez. Transnationalization literature sees global norm creation and diffusion as a constant process of negotiating and re-negotiating norms. Meridians: Feminism. the embrace of one influence of Western modernity (capital accumulation) led to the spread of Indian elite traditions and not to the acceptance of the whole ‘‘Western package’’. or local contexts as mutually constitutive. Her interpretation is that the discourse employed by the transnational networks did not connect sufficiently with the national normative context. Sonia E. Apodaca. References Abouharb. Such a top-down perspective makes it difficult. inevitably take on different forms. Thus. open to interpretation. when applied to particular contexts. Regime theory points to the possibilities of joint problem-definition and problem-solving through international cooperation. Race. a theoretical take on the translation of global gender norms has to focus on the reactions of national politicians to international treaties. Thus. while global norm diffusion literature sheds light on the ways in which ideas may become internationally and domestically persuasive. we can observe open disconnects between international norms and transnational activism on the one hand and domestic contexts on the other. national. originally only practiced by high-caste Hindus. Finally. if shaped by ‘‘scattered hegemonies’’ of diverse power relations. and Strategies. While the first debate develops its analysis from an international point of departure.126 How Do Norms Travel? would add an important factor to understanding the resonance of international norms. While the institution of Western marriage never caught on in colonial India. as well as on state or civil society actors who have altogether different agendas. More specifically related to international women’s rights. and it cannot be ruled out that the notion of women’s rights is being exploited for other purposes. Alvarez 2000). edited . In Global Feminism: Transnational Women’s Activism. however. This contextualized perspective does not aim at making a relativist argument. including marriage. (2006) The Human Rights Effects of World Bank Structural Adjustment 1981–2000. impact translation. while other women’s organizations were rather successful in implementing a notion of ‘‘gender equity’’ into national legislation.. Similarly. This formation elucidates how international women’s rights are interpreted in a context where normative rejection is dominant and where norm translation stands for very cautious exploration of potential overlap. Stachursky observes for the context of Iran that it adds legitimacy to women’s activists’ claims if they refrain from referring to international gender norms (Stachursky 2010). state behavior in response to interna- tional claims. This happens within manifold constellations of power. International norms may also have outcomes never intended. Issues. International Feminist Journal of Politics 1 (2): 181–209. Effects of Transnational Organizing on Local Feminist Discourses and Practices in Latin America. This view allows to pick up the thread where IR literature left it: It is now possible to see CEDAW as an instrument whose impact depends on contextualized agency. on transnational NGOs and the relevance of CEDAW in their strategies. and at the same time spread as a hegemonic model into lower castes. Cingranelli. Human Rights Quarterly 20 (1): 139–172. Transnationalism 1 (1): 29–67. Uyl (2005) explains the resurgence of dowry in India as a reaction to external influences of modernity. on national or local women’s organizations and their knowledge about and strategic use of CEDAW. R. As strategies for change are produced by situated activism. I have offered three constellations of norm translation—global discourse translation. From this angle. (2006) Women’s Organizing in Post-Yugoslav Countries: Talking about ‘‘Donors’’. in particular the creation of international norms. whereas the more nationally rooted women’s organizations were deeply anchored in it (Foley 2004). Claire. several authors have observed that transnational organizing intended to strengthen international discourses and ultimately.

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