Background and Purpose:
The past decade has seen a veritable explosion in the number, public visibility and achievements of Jewish religious women, both Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (hereinafter and collectively, “religious”), active in transforming their communities. In their activism, they challenge and criticized the conventions and norms of their own society, addressing issues hitherto silenced or addressed within the narrow boundaries of their community. The present study examines strategies and tactics used by religious women activists in Israel who are engaged in ongoing efforts to transform their community norms and conventions, which they find discriminatory and restrictive of all women in those religious communities.
This qualitative study is informed by a critical feminist approach that considers the participants’ discourse as a major source of information. Fourteen activists participated in this study, recruited in the snowball technique. The data were collected by semi-structured in-depth interviews. Thematic analysis was performed to identify topics and categories, according to the mapping analysis technique.
Analysis of the findings indicate that they walk between proverbial raindrops, making judicious and carefully planned use of a variety of strategies and tactics, of both consensus and confrontation, to promote their aims. Together with their protest against injustices in their society and attempts to redress them, they observe the norms of the religious world and avoid crossing “red lines”, as they put it. Their complex combination of strict observance of religious and social conventions and their feminist outlook is their way of overcoming obstacles and achieving desirable change.
Conclusions and Implications:
The religious women activists are motivated by a strong belief and powerful desire to change what they see as necessary to change in their society, but their choice of strategies and tactics is moderated by their identity as having grown in that society. Their decision to become active is integral to their identity as religious women: they view their activism as a way of challenging their society’s injustices, and operate from within the framework of its norms and out of respect for its integrity. This study contributes to the literature by highlighting the new and unique phenomenon of religious women who, despite being educated to accept the conventions of a patriarchal society choose to make their voice heard and lead sociocultural changes. This can help understand how communities change, as activists have the power to affect their community directly through their work, as well as indirectly as models and mentors for others. The study also adds relevant theoretical and updated knowledge, related to the field of community social work with activists. Regard to policy, the research highlights the need to invest in community work that is compatible with and sensitive to the needs and characteristics of women activists in general and religious activist women in particular, such as courses in community work with minorities and training of community social workers who deal with human rights and advocacy.