The Effect of RTAs in the Western Hemisphere on Women, Piper Jackson-Sevy


Gender economics is a relatively new field, especially in the realm of trade studies. This paper seeks to answer the question of how the various regional trade blocs in Latin America have affected women’s equality and participation in the economy. It provides an overview of the existing literature on the gender-biased effects of liberalization and the current research on the gender-differentiated effects of six major regional trade blocs in the Western Hemisphere: Mercosur, NAFTA, CAFTA-DR, ALBA-TCP, CAN and Caricom. Using STATA software and linear regression analysis, this paper finds: 1) RTAs in the Western Hemisphere did not have a significant effect on introducing anti-discriminatory policies, changing wage inequality over time or increasing female labor force participation. 2) Mercosur has had a slightly negative effect on FLFP and Caricom has been negatively associated with the presence of domestic sexual harassment laws. 3) Only CAN was effective at increasing female labor force participation in the first years after signing the agreement. 4) Sexual harassment laws are not associated with higher levels of FLFP or wage equality. 5) Greater levels of land per person are associated with decreased levels of FLFP. Small sample sizes and low variation limited the robustness and scope of this study.

Table of Contents

Abstract 1

Introduction. 3

Background. 7

The ‘Lost Decade’, Neoliberalism, and the Washington Consensus. 7

FTAs, RTAs and the FTAA.. 8

Literature Review: Gender and Free Trade. 12

Basic economic theory underlying trade studies. 12

Literature Review.. 13

Non-traditional agricultural exports. 16

Formal urban labor markets. 18

Women as Entrepreneurs. 19

Women as Laborers. 20

Informal urban economy. 24

Female heads of rural households and small peasant production. 25

Hypothesis and Methodology. 26

Cases and Findings. 29

Synopsis of the major RTAs in the Western Hemisphere. 29

Mercosur 29

NAFTA.. 33

Community of Andean Nations (CAN) 37



Caricom.. 42

Findings and Discussion. 44

Conclusion. 50

Working Bibliography. 53



“In the absence of public policy, globalization alone cannot and will not make gender inequality go away. Despite significant increases in agency and in access to economic opportunities for many women in many countries, large gaps remain in some areas. Public action… is therefore necessary for countries to fully capitalize on the potential for globalization as a force for development and greater gender inequality.”[1]

-World Bank World Development Report 2012


Free trade is not a new idea in Latin America. Some regional trade agreements date back to the 1960s, and even Simón Bolívar, referred to as El Libertador of South America, promoted trade liberalization with the former imperial powers.[2] Until recently, the effects that trade liberalization policies have had on women have been under-studied and sometimes ignored completely. Of the seven major free trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere, not one preamble mentions enhancing the welfare of the resident female populations. Trade liberalization can affect the nature and availability of market (and non-market) activities open to women, both in and out of the home. It can affect women’s bargaining power by altering the potential share of household income (and total income) that women are able to earn.[3] Research has shown that gains from trade can be hampered by gender inequalities, so it is to each bloc’s detriment that they ignore this important segment of society.[4],[5],[6]

Aside from social norms and social roles within the household, inequalities are institutionalized by disparities in access to education, credit, labor markets and control over resources. The discrepancies create inequality traps for women, which lower aggregate growth and decrease economic opportunities that would otherwise be created by trade liberalization.[7] Over the past two decades, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen significant increases in female labor force participation (FLFP), which, as of 2010, was hovering around 57 percent.[8] However, FLFP and female wages still lag behind their male equivalents.[9] A study by Oostendorp finds that “the occupational wage gap tends to decrease with increasing economic development, at least in richer countries; and to decrease with trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) in richer countries, but [does not find evidence] that trade and FDI also reduce the occupational gender wage gap in poorer countries.”[10] Data from the Western Hemisphere collected by this author from the Global Gender Gap Report in 2009 and 2013 support this argument, showing that the U.S. and Canada have experienced increased wage inequality and developing countries in the region show both increases and decreases on a country-by-country basis.[11]

Trade alone cannot get rid of every obstacle facing women’s full and equal participation in the economy. The 2012 World Bank Development Report explains the ‘productivity trap’ that prevent women from engaging in the economy to the same extent (and from reaping the same benefits) as their male counterparts. The three elements of the trap are: access to economic opportunities, gender differences in time use (especially care responsibilities), and access to productive inputs. Each part of the trap reinforces the other two parts, creating a cycle of inequality. For example, with limited access to productive inputs women are less able to access new economic opportunities and therefore have a comparative advantage in domestic and care work, which then lowers their ability to access new productive inputs and economic opportunities.[12] The segregation caused by the trap is inefficient because women are being prevented from maximizing their productivity. The Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said:

Gender inequality is not only a legitimate policy goal by itself, as better opportunities       for women lead to improvements in human development; it is also highly desirable         from an efficiency perspective. Societies where income inequality and discrimination         against particular kinds of individuals are lower tend to grow faster. The strong            correlation between the gender gap, economic development and national      competitiveness suggests the importance of incorporating gender equality into          policymaking.[13]

Because of issues like the poverty trap, it is the intention of this paper to determine if trade blocs in the Western Hemisphere have effectively developed other policies to benefit their female populations. I therefore ask the question: “How have the major trading blocs in the Western Hemisphere promoted or discouraged women’s equality and participation in the economy?”  

The regional trading blocs in the Western Hemisphere are very diverse; each bloc varies in the level of influence it exerts over its member countries. On one end of the spectrum, NAFTA and the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) could be considered very minimal because the agreements are limited only to the realm of trade and economy. Members are required to protect intellectual property rights, work to abolish subsidies, and expand trade in a way that promotes labor rights and environmental sustainability, but little else is required. On the other hand, the Caribbean Common Market (Caricom) and the Southern Market (Mercosur) seek to be much more than just trade agreements. Mercosur has established an imperfect customs union and requires member countries to maintain democratic elections. Caricom seeks to become even more unified as a “single market and economy” (CSME) and has made significant strides towards this goal despite political obstacles.

It is important to understand how free trade affects women because trading blocs in the Western Hemisphere are becoming increasingly relevant and powerful institutions. Additionally, women have historically been, and continue to be, disenfranchised and underemployed, yet the number of female-headed households throughout the hemisphere is on the rise.[14]  The critical nature of this research is revealed by the estimate of the World Development Report 2012, which found that the gender productivity gap could be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 and total output per worker could increase by 3-25 percent just by eliminating the barriers that prevent women from working in certain sectors and industries.[15]

I have hypothesized that cultural norms (here operationalized by the presence of workplace sexual harassment laws) should both effect various economic indicators including female labor force participation, and also be affected by various policy initiatives set forth by different trade blocs. I would also like to determine if any specific policies or regulations in any of the agreements have directly affected women’s employment. It should also be true that the trading blocs that are more sensitive to development issues, such as CAN and ALBA, should be more effective at addressing the barriers which prevent women from fully participating in the economy.

This paper consists of eight sections. The first section gives background information on the causes and events that have led to the current make-up of trade blocs in the Western Hemisphere. A literature review covering the current knowledge of the gendered aspects of trade, worldwide and specifically in Latin America, comprises the second section. The third section will delve deeper into the original hypothesis stated above and explain the methodology of the project. The cases for the study are presented in section five, which is followed by a discussion of the findings in section six. Some concluding remarks and the works referenced compose the final two sections.


The ‘Lost Decade’, Neoliberalism, and the Washington Consensus

            After World War II, economies all over the world began to boom, especially in developing regions like Asia and Latin America. Borrowing from foreign creditors skyrocketed to fund new development projects. Unfortunately, Latin American countries, though receiving loans just as vigorously, were not growing nearly as fast as the developing Asian countries across the Pacific. Massive budget deficits, inflation, and debts began to pile up, causing macro-economic imbalances, which made the region incredibly vulnerable when the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States began to pursue anti-inflationary monetary policies. These policies ultimately caused an appreciation of the dollar and increased interest rates, which put a squeeze on Latin American debtors since most debts were owed in U.S. dollars. It became increasingly clear that most Latin American countries would have difficulty repaying their loans, and suddenly the credit market for Latin American borrowers dried up. Living standards eroded as poverty rates, which had fallen in the time since WWII, began to rise again. Ultimately, everything boiled over in August of 1982 when Mexico ran out of reserves and Jesus Silva-Herzog, Mexico’s Finance Minister, was forced to declare what the world had feared: Mexico would not be able to pay back its foreign debt. [16] Other countries soon followed, and the result was the beginning of the “Lost Decade”, a period of stagnation or even decreasing growth rates throughout Latin America.[17]

It soon became apparent that Latin American economies were in need of international aid. Thus in 1989, the Washington Consensus was proposed by the U.S. government in collaboration with the IMF, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.[18] The Washington Consensus promoted “structural adjustment programs”, which emphasized macroeconomic stability, decreasing barriers to trade, privatization, protecting intellectual property rights, fiscal discipline, and generally reducing the role of the state. Nations plagued by debt were encouraged to take out loans from the IMF, which were available provided that countries were willing to bring their domestic policies in line with the ideals of the Washington Consensus. The most lasting effect of these policies was to spur a new era of liberalization in Latin America. As countries decreased obstacles to trade, they also created new trading blocs and reinvested in existing blocs on both a regional and global scale.

FTAs, RTAs and the FTAA

Developing countries have many incentives to liberalize trade with developed countries. Push factors are incentives to break from the status quo of protectionism, and pull factors are incentives to liberalize trade with a developed country. For example, pull factors may include seeking to gain greater market access or other concessions that competitor developing countries don’t have, or to attract more FDI. Push factors can include avoiding the perceived risk of losing competitiveness with other countries that are liberalizing. These factors help to explain why, on December 11, 1994, thirty-four American nations (which did not include Cuba) met in Miami, Florida for the first Summit of the Americas to discuss creating a free trade bloc throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. The Summit was the result of the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative proposed by George Bush Sr.’s administration during the NAFTA negotiations with Mexico. Bush envisioned that NAFTA could be extended “from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego” to create “a continental base from which the U.S. could lead the Post-Cold War World, starting with reaffirming its leadership in the Western Hemisphere.”[19] Of course, an economically united Western Hemisphere would also be useful to the United States in negotiating against the European Union and Japan in the WTO.[20]

The Clinton administration made the FTAA its top priority in Latin American foreign policy, but despite this commitment, the first summit meeting, and the following three over the next 11 years, was inconclusive. [21] Brazil represented the most significant source of opposition against any extension of NAFTA or any FTAA that resembled NAFTA, mainly due to its position of power in the region (although other members of Mercosur, Chile and members of the ALBA agreement were also in opposition.) Brazil saw the FTAA as “an obstacle to the designs of Brazilian leadership within the regional order in South America."[22]

Brazil had significant motivation for promoting the status quo of consolidating Mercosur and preventing the creation of an FTAA. Schvarzer explains the three main reasons Brazil would have been reluctant to let go of Mercosur for an FTAA. First, Brazil’s relationship with Europe and the EU has benefitted from its position of power within Mercosur. Second, Brazil has already invested a significant amount of time and “diplomatic and political capital” in Mercosur.[23] Finally, Brazil has not yet forgotten the pain of its most recent financial crisis in the ‘80s. A more consolidated Mercosur would have a stabilizing effect on the economy and could also be a source of emergency relief in the event of another crisis.[24]

Other countries objected to the FTAA because it would mean the destruction of the trading bloc of which they were already a member. Many of the other trading blocs have stipulations that go far beyond what the FTAA would have enacted. For instance, Mercosur requires that all member countries maintain democratic governments and exercises control over member countries’ memberships in other agreements (although in practice this is rarely enforced, having been exercised only once since 1991.)

In November 2003, Brazil and Argentina (both part of Mercosur) signed an agreement that pledged the two countries would fight together to support their agricultural interests in the world economy and thus reject any NAFTA-style FTAA.[25] They rejected the most recent proposal for an FTAA in 2005, citing unfair U.S. agricultural subsidies as their main point of contention.[26] In response, the Clinton administration declared that Mercosur was harmful to the creation of the FTAA and a threat to hemispheric regionalism.[27] Ultimately, the last Summit of the Americas meeting failed to create the FTAA in 2005. The only conclusion was that 26 of the 34 countries (the members of ALBA uniformly rejected all plans for an FTAA modeled after NAFTA) agreed to a meeting (which would never actually take place) in 2006. After much debate, the summit concluded:

The necessary conditions to implement a balanced and equal free trade agreement still do not exist: the effective access to markets free of subsidies and distortive business practices, which take into account the needs and sensitivities of all business partners, including in their levels of development and the size of their economies.[28]

Since the negotiation failure, regional trade blocs (RTAs) have become increasingly consolidated and powerful in the Western Hemisphere. Because fewer and typically more similar nations are involved, RTAs are much easier to negotiate than multilateral trade agreements (MTAs). However, RTAs undermine the goals of the WTO because, while they can act to enhance trade in some ways, typically they are cited as detracting from freer trade. They can maximize trade by supporting full employment, sharing access to resources and know-how, and removing “invisible barriers” by increasing infrastructure development which can increase market access for small producers in new markets.[29],[30] RTAs can detract from freer trade, however, if they divert trade from more efficient non-member countries to less-efficient RTA-member countries.[31] Theoretically, influential special interest groups could also cause rampant trade diversion by inducing governments to add distortionary measures to the agreements. There is also a fear that a focus on regional agreements will detract from the broader goal of global liberalization, ultimately undermining multilateralism.[32]

Despite the concerns, there are currently seven major regional trade agreements in effect in the Western Hemisphere: Mercosur, NAFTA, CAFTA-DR, CAN (Community of Andean Nations), ALBA, CARICOM, and the Pacific Alliance. Membership for each agreement are shown in the table below, however this paper will exclude the Pacific Alliance, signed in February of 2014, because it is too early for the effects of the agreement to be seen.




Table 1. Member countries of agreements in the Western Hemisphere. Compiled by author


Year established

Member Countries

Associate Members

Former Members


1991, amended 1994

Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela

Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guayana, Peru and Suriname




United States, Canada, Mexico





United States, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua





Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela




1973, revised in 2001

Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago

Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands


Andean Community (CAN)

1969, revised in 1996

Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru


Chile, Venezuela


Literature Review: Gender and Free Trade

            Basic economic theory underlying trade studies

                  Before delving into the literature review, it is important to understand a few key economic principals regarding trade. First, the Heckscher-Ohlin (HO) Model in its most simple form states that comparative advantages in production lead to international specialization after liberalization. The structural change in production causes a country to reallocate its inputs towards sectors, which use the country’s abundant production factor most intensely. The Stolper-Samuelson Theory builds off the HO model, stating that the structural change in resource allocation causes real returns on the abundant factors to increase, while real returns on the non-abundant factors decrease.

The Balassa-Samuelson theory builds on the previous models to postulate an effect on wages. Essentially, wages will be determined by the marginal product of labor (MPL) and prices in the tradable goods sector, which will then affect the wages in the non-tradable goods sector as workers transfer across sectors. The Balassa-Samuelson model is slightly complicated in the short-run in a few ways pertinent to this study. First, the Specific-Factor Model shows that certain factors are specific to certain industries in the short term, and are therefore fixed. In fact, (unskilled) labor is the only factor of production that can move across sectors in the short-term. Second, men and women tend to be imperfect substitutes into the medium-term.[33],[34],[35] Edwards and Edwards show that gender segregation by sector may contribute to making labor fixed, at least in the medium-term, which affects the rate which wages equalize across industries.[36]

Literature Review

Gender studies is a relatively new field in academia, and this is especially apparent in free trade research. According to Ventura-Dias, “the empirical research surrounding gender and trade in Latin America has focused on the nature of job opportunities and income brought by trade expansion. A secondary focus has been on the impact of intra-household allocation and distribution of resources.”[37] Thus, early research did not focus on trade policy, but rather the effects that liberalization would have on societally entrenched patriarchal norms.[38] Bussolo and de Hoyos explain that only recently have efforts been made to study gender and free trade using classic economic theories. Social issues such as class, race, ethnicity, rural-urban status and social norms, and economic issues like conservative fiscal policies, tight monetary policy, deregulation of markets, public asset privatization, and anti-inflationary policies can also affect female resource endowments on an individual level. It is therefore difficult to delineate the social and economic effects from those derived from free trade.[39], [40]

The degree of uncertainty associated with the overall impact of trade liberalization on women catalyzes considerable debate amongst scholars. Jones and Baker are among the scholars that find positive outcomes for women after liberalization. They argue that liberalization, as well as better access to education and economic adjustments have facilitated an increase in women’s share of employment in the public sector (specifically in Latin America).[41] Additionally, after a period of about two years after liberalization, Gaddis and Pieters find increasing rates of female labor force participation rates in Brazil.[42] They explain that increased economic activity for women is due to both push and pull factors. Push factors include increased labor market insecurity and increased male unemployment (since women can provide extra income to the household in uncertain times), and pull factors include flows of employment across sectors, which provide women with new opportunities to join new sectors.[43]

Other studies have tested whether the Becker model of discrimination, which predicts that the increase in competition due to liberalization forces employers to decrease discrimination in hiring, holds true for gender discrimination. Black and Brainerd found that, between 1976 and 1993, women employed in industrial sectors did indeed benefit from decreased hiring discrimination associated with increased competition.[44] Tejani and Milberg found that liberalization could not erase all gender stereotypes against women that create obstacles to employment. These gender stereotypes lead to gender segmentation of industries and contribute to decreased intensity of female labor force participation, even when the gender wage gap and educational attainment are held constant, indicating a need for policy intervention.[45]

While some studies find concrete evidence in one direction, most liberalization studies find heterogeneous effects of trade on women. For example, Klugman and Gameroni state that “trade liberalization has heightened women’s autonomy and resulted in benefits for future generations through investment in human capital”, yet go on to point out that women are somewhat prevented from taking full advantage of gains from trade.[46] Even though the education gap has largely closed (especially in Latin America), differences in human capital persist due to women and men choosing different fields of study and because of cultural norms, which largely force women to prioritize domestic responsibilities over formal employment.[47] Paul-Majumder and Begum confirm that women in the garment industry in Bangladesh tend to have higher self-esteem and marry at a later age than their peers in the non-export sector. They also found that the Bangladeshi garment export industry had increased female participation in the labor force, female social prestige, and female control of household decision-making and income. At the same time, the study also found a gender-discriminated gap in wage rates, and that the garment industry was highly segregated in production by gender. They recommended policy changes be enacted to combat these entrenched gaps since market forces alone have proved insufficient.[48] The World Bank Development Report 2012 shows that, for many women, liberalization has created more jobs and stronger connections to markets. The same report finds that, due to weaker property rights and less access to productive inputs, women are less able to reap the benefits of trade liberalization in export sectors of natural resources and agriculture.[49] Data collected by this author supports this claim, and will be examined further in the Discussion section.

Research on trade and gender is often divided into four categories:

  1. The size and characteristic of female employment generated by non-traditional trade in the agro-export industries
  2. The impact of trade liberalization on female participation in urban labor markets
  3. The impact of trade liberalization on the informal urban economy
  4. The impact of the liberal agenda on female smallholder or peasant production, associated with an increased s hare of female-headed rural households[50]

While this paper will eventually focus primarily on the first and second group, it is important to gain an understanding of how the existing research has framed the effects of trade in each sector of the economy.

Non-traditional agricultural exports

Women are often demanded as laborers in the high-value agricultural and manufacturing industry for a number of reasons broadly referred to as the ‘feminization of exporting jobs’ or the “feminization of labor conditions.”[51] First, women are more likely to accept the often-deplorable conditions of export processing operations, which include a lack of job security and benefits, and lower pay. These types of labor-intensive industries seek skills that are often attributed, through social construction, to women generally, such as “obedience, manual dexterity, patience, the acceptance of hierarchy, and a lack of [labor] militancy.”[52] The jobs created by liberalization, though, are likely better in some way or women would not have left their previous employment. Liberalization can also cause the “masculinization” of traditionally female-employing industries. For example, this happened with groundnuts in Zambia[53] and rice in the Gambia[54] as commercialization and profits for the crops rose, men took over traditionally female occupations. This phenomenon is known as the development “glass ceiling” where “women are hired for unskilled ‘feminine’ jobs… and they are replaced by men when technological upgrading is introduced.”[55]

The ILO World of Work Report finds that, in almost all countries and especially in manufacturing and agricultural industries, women are overrepresented as part-time or temporary laborers.[56] The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development discussed this phenomenon and concluded that temporary work for female laborers could be a double-edged sword. Temporary work can accommodate women’s reproductive and domestic duties, but it is also associated with job insecurity, lack of benefits and extra training, and lack of upward mobility, which keeps women in low-skilled, low-paid jobs. Ballara and Parada show that the majority of women in agriculture still work on farms as unpaid family workers, so the expansion of employment opportunities in the agricultural market can create new economic opportunities particularly for women.[57] The flower, fresh fruit and vegetable, and poultry industries tend to employ large numbers of women in Latin America, as documented in the work of Dolan and Sorby.[58]

            Overall, women stand to gain from expanded opportunities in the agricultural industry created by liberalization, but often the form or degree to which they can utilize these opportunities is limited by other factors.

Formal urban labor markets

Fontana shows how variables at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels ultimately impact women in the urban sector. At the macro-level, gender gaps in market participation will vary according to which sectors gain through trade. If more female-intensive sectors gain than lose, women benefit. At the meso-level of analysis, government revenue from tariffs may decrease, which could decrease public provisions for services that benefit women. This is not a factor for larger countries like the United States or Canada, but could play a role in smaller economies that may depend on tariffs for government revenue. At the micro-level, whether sources of independent income for women expand or contract alters the control women can exercise over household expenditures.[59]

Formal urban labor markets can be divided into two general categories of employment, which are equally important: workers as entrepreneurs and workers as laborers. These markets are the portion of the economy most visibly confined by gender norms. For example, manufacturing jobs tend to be persistently and exclusively divided along gender lines.[60] GTZ et al. confirm that in Latin America especially, women are concentrated in commerce, health and education sectors, though increasingly women are finding employment in export sectors as well.[61]

Women as Entrepreneurs

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Latin America has high rates of female entrepreneurship and a higher ratio of female to male entrepreneurship compared to other regions. GTZ et al. explains how this could be the result of positive or negative factors. Strong promotional institutions could be at play, but it could also be caused by a lack of other salaried options for women and a need for extra household income.[62] Indeed, most female-owned firms in the region are considered “small-enterprises.”[63]

Several studies have been undertaken to understand the obstacles that female entrepreneurs face. Smith et al. describes how women globally tend to have decreased access to information, business networks and government institutions created to support export-orientated firms.[64] Papyrikis et al. also explains that because women have decreased access and control over natural, physical, financial, and human assets, women are less able to take advantage of advances in technology and new opportunities in the export market.[65] Finally, Gine et al. show that microfinance products designed to target entrepreneurs in developing countries tend to be unintentionally biased in marketing towards men. The study further shows that disadvantaged people tend to take more psychological cues from marketing, and therefore may be more deterred by incidental biases, such as having only men (or women) on the cover of a brochure.[66]

Many programs are in place to encourage entrepreneurship in the developing world, however the effects of entrepreneurial employment can be ambiguous for women- helping in some ways, but harmful in others.

Women as Laborers

On the other side of urban sector employment is labor. Ventura-Dias shows how trade liberalization could affect female employment in urban labor markets at the macro-level in a simple example. Take two goods, clothing and steel, where clothing is labor-intensive and employs mostly women, while steel is mostly capital-intensive and typically employs men. Suppose that a free trade agreement passes where the country’s comparative advantage lies in steel. Clothing now becomes the import-competing good, causing jobs in clothing production to decrease and jobs in steel production to increase. Social norms will prevent the now unemployed women for applying or being considered for the newly created steel jobs, which are being created at a slower rate anyway because the steel industry is capital-intensive.[67] In this example, gender decides who will benefit and who will not after liberalization.

Saure and Zoabi also studied the effects of NAFTA on FLFP and came to surprising conclusions. First, they assume that male and female labor are imperfect substitutes because men and women are equally endowed with “brain” but men (and not women) are also endowed with “brawn.” Therefore women are typically employed in capital-intensive industries and men in labor-intensive industries. The second assumption is that because men do not face the trade-off between domestic labor and formal employment, men are always fully formally employed. With these two assumptions in mind, if a country opens up to trade and has a comparative advantage in the female-intensive industry, the result will be decreased female labor force participation. Men, seeking to maximize their own labor market returns, will effectively “crowd out” female laborers. [68] The opposite is also true: if the liberalizing country has a comparative advantage in the male-intensive industry, female labor force participation will expand because men are already fully employed and new jobs are being created in the expanded industry.[69] However, Do et al. find empirical evidence that does not support Saure and Zoabi’s seemingly counterintuitive conclusions. First, they find that in countries where women are empowered, female labor-intensive industries will expand relatively more than in countries where women are not empowered. They also find that countries that export more female labor-intensive goods have lower gender gaps. They conclude that a reciprocal relationship exists between country-specific attitudes toward women and expanding female labor-intensive industries after liberalization.[70] It should be noted that Duflo adds that this cycle is too weak to be self-reinforcing or self-sustaining without complementary public policies committed to equality.[71]

Social norms are also a driving factor creating friction in the labor market. In virtually every country, women are typically clustered in particular occupations and sectors of the economy, which have generally changed very little over time.[72] Elson and Pearson discuss how trade literature traditionally ignores these discriminatory social norms. Their 1989 study on the effects of trade liberalization on women in Asia was one of the first in this field combining trade, labor and household economics. Building off of the first study, Pearson concluded that “empirical research indicates that trade related [urban sector] employment could open up opportunities for women by challenging patriarchal relations and increasing women’s income, while at the same time decomposing and recomposing the existing forms of gender subordination.”[73] GTZ et al. confirms that traditional household roles and cultural norms account for some of the increased unemployment rates amongst women, compared to their male counterparts.[74] Indeed, the World Development Report found that in Korea, women’s share of employment in manufacturing grew from 6 percent in 1970 to 30 percent by the early 1990s,[75] but a study by Seguino found that during this same period the female-male wage gap narrowed only marginally, despite favorable market conditions which would have predicted an increase in female wages relative to men’s. She found significant evidence that linked the growth of the Korean export markets with gender wage inequality. The causal link appears to be in hiring, training and promotion policies at the state and firm level. These policies leave women with relatively weaker fallback options for employment, which ultimately limits their ability to bargain for higher wages as productivity increases.[76]

Another issue with urban sector employment created by liberalization is the unequal working conditions that often characterize female-intensive manufacturing industries (as well male-intensive, child-intensive, and other industries). While research on this issue is divided, Azar maintains that trade liberalization has not improved the quality of female employment. Her research, based on case studies from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay, concluded that women were more likely to lose their jobs than men after trade liberalization, and then were less likely to find new employment in trade-related industries afterward.[77] Data collected by this author indicates that only Brazil, El Salvador, Paraguay and Venezuela experienced decreasing female labor force participation rates in the first year after liberalization; and only Argentina, Canada, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay and the U.S. experienced negative changes to female labor force participation from 2009 to 2012.  Studies have shown that employed women are subject to more job insecurity than men, so their employment status is much more volatile. A study by Levinshon shows that gross job reallocation rates in Chile after trade liberalization have been over twice as high for women compared to their male peers.[78],[79] Though Barrientos et al. finds that employment in these industries is still a better alternative to unemployment or underemployment of rural family production.[80] Another study by Heath and Mobarak confirms the potential long-term benefits of liberalization in a study, which found that the probability that a five year-old girl in Bangladesh would attend school was increased by new employment opportunities in the garment industry.[81] This point is contested by Papyrikis et al. who find that often the oldest female child becomes responsible for domestic tasks when the mother enters formal employment, often at the expense of the daughter’s education.[82] The impact of the mother’s employment can be softened by reliable and affordable government childcare and eldercare programs, as explained by Gibb.[83]

Interestingly, when Pearson published her study in 1998, Latin American women in the formal urban economy generally were not seeing the benefits from liberalization to the degree that women in Asia were, for reasons not completely understood. Ventura-Dias explains:

It is the unique nature of the international integration of each country or its trade specialization that will determine the characteristics of the demand for female [labor]. The correlation of manufacturing exports and female employment was due to the massive integration of Asian and a few other developing countries in international supply chains, with women performing the most [labor] intensive activities of these countries’ production (mostly in textiles and clothing, toys, and electronic products)… Latin American exporting industries are not intensive employers of women, although women have also been intensively employed in the non-traditional agricultural exports of countries such as Chile, Ecuador and Colombia.[84]

Essentially, Ventura-Diaz maintains that, due to country specific factors, Asian women have generally benefitted from trade liberalization, while Latin American women generally have not. Tejani and Milberg offered an explanation to this phenomenon in 2010 when they found that the manufacturing sector in Southeast Asia is now changing and undergoing defeminization, while in Latin America the labor force is seeing ongoing feminization. They argue that this is due to shifts in capital intensity and manufacturing productivity that occur when countries successfully upgrade industries from low-skill intensive manufacturing to high technology production.[85]

Informal urban economy

            The informal economy is defined as that which meets basic human needs, but is not paid, reported or subjection to taxation. It is sometimes referred to as “unpaid care work”, “non-market work”, or “the work of social reproduction” and can include child or family care, preparing meals, maintaining the household, community work, or any other labor that is not subject to taxation.[86] Gibb explains that because the informal economy is outside of the realm of legal and regulatory institutions, this type of employment is often associated with high vulnerability and very little social security, and it tends to expand during times of economic adjustment (for example, during the ‘Lost Decade’ in the 1980s).[87]

Work in the informal sector is rigidly divided along gender lines and proscribed by social norms. The same social norms also affect a person’s economic opportunities, including access to productive assets and benefits, and they often limit women’s mobility and decisions or choices.

Female heads of rural households and small peasant production

            Trade liberalization is often associated with the destruction of small-scale production operations, which, as many studies show, can actually be beneficial to women. As mentioned earlier, Ballara and Parada show that most women in agriculture work on family farms as unpaid workers. Barrientos et al. agree that the high value agricultural export industries are typically a better alternative, in terms of quality of life measurements, than the rural family production.[88] Weaker land property rights and access to productive inputs for women can limit the degree to which women can operate in the small-scale agriculture sector. For example, data from the Central Highlands of Guatemala shows that women hold less than five percent of contracts to produce two of the region’s most important crops: snow peas and broccoli.[89] In a study on the effects of NAFTA, White et al. found that 56 percent of female-owned farms were on parcels of land smaller than two hectares (compared to 35% for men.) With the implementation of NAFTA, these small-scale operations did not have the means or the excess supply to engage in international trade, although they still faced competition from the heavily subsidized farmers in the U.S.[90] Therefore, female farm-owners were displaced from their traditional agriculture occupations at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

            In many ways, several areas of gender and trade studies are still very limited. It is this paper’s intention to stray from the traditional country and regional level of analysis and instead examine how international institutions (i.e. (sub)regional trade agreements) can impact female employment either by the nature of the agreement itself, or because of the implementation of specific policy measures, focusing specifically on institutions in the Western Hemisphere.


The goal of this paper is to examine a number of different variables to determine the mechanism (or mechanisms) by which women gain or lose from freer trade. Specifically asking, how have the major trading blocs in the Western Hemisphere promoted or discouraged women’s equality and participation in the economy?

 It is already known that domestic policies can help alleviate the adjustment costs of trade liberalization. A study by Bardham shows that proper domestic policies can work to compensate industries that are negatively affected by liberalization, facilitate displaced workers training programs, or enhance the operation of certain markets.[91] Klugman and Gamberoni agree, stating that “globalization alone cannot eliminate gender gaps; complementary policies and public action are also needed to reduce disparities in education and skill level as well as increase women’s access to capital.”[92] Here, I seek to determine if policies beyond the domestic level, at the RTA level, can also have an impact on domestic gender issues.

The Global Gender Gap Report, which includes an overall gender gap score, the economic gender gap score and a political gap score, will serve as dependent variables. Other dependent variables from the three categories of health, political representation, and economic equality include adolescent fertility rate, wage equality and income equality scores (both from the Global Gender Gap Report), female labor force participation and female participation as a percentage of total labor force participation, social norms (operationalized by the presence of sexual harassment laws in the work place.), changes in GDP per capita, and female representation in Parliament or an equivalent body. This study does not include educational attainment gaps or health gaps because gender differences in education and access to healthcare have been largely eliminated in the Western Hemisphere.

Independent variables include membership to each trading bloc; change in GDP over time; relative endowments of land, labor, capital and technology; agricultural/food exports as a percentage of merchandise exports; and social norms (again, operationalized by the presence of sexual harassment laws in the work place).

            Aspects of each bloc’s preambles were also included as independent variables. Many ideas are reiterated throughout multiple agreements, as shown in Table 2

Table 1. Priorities specifically named in the preambles of the six major trading blocs in the Western Hemisphere. Compiled by author.


Labor Rights


Improve development indicators



















Latin America








Western hemisphere, specifically FTAA

Eliminate bribery and corruption in int’l trade & development




Decrease illiteracy



Latin America

Technology exchange, protect cultures








Establish and maintain stable macroeconomic environment & diversify agriculture

Andean Community






Andean subregional community

Equality, peace, democracy


Though none specifically mention a commitment to promoting women’s rights, aspects like reinforcing labor rights and improving development indicators were tested as independent variables in place of testing each agreement separately.

            The scope of the research is limited to NAFTA, Mercosur, CAN, CAFTA-DR, Caricom, and ALBA. These are the major trading blocs in the Western hemisphere, excluding the Pacific Alliance, which is too new to study the medium- and long-term impacts of liberalization. NAFTA and Mercosur are the two largest blocs in the Western Hemisphere, and in fact, two of the largest blocs in the world. The countries of CAN represent an interesting mix of development levels, and have created several policies to make liberalization easier for the less developed countries like Peru. CAFTA-DR and Caricom both boast large membership of Central American countries, but are also very different in important ways. The member countries of CAFTA-DR have very different levels of development, and the agreement itself does not extend much beyond the realm of trade. The members of Caricom, on the other hand, are much more similar in terms of development. The agreement also created institutions that are beyond the realm of trade. Finally, ALBA is critical to include because it represents an entirely different model of free trade based on mutually beneficial exchanges, and is purposely anti-capitalist in many respects. It will be particularly interesting to see if any of the policies that ALBA touts are indeed improving the economic opportunities for its female population.

            Based on the above knowledge, I hypothesize (H1) that agreements which are more intense in terms of going beyond a basic trade agreement, such as CARICOM, as well as agreements which are sensitive to the development needs of member countries, such as CAN and ALBA, will be more effective at addressing the issues and obstacles of women citizens of the bloc. Further, I hypothesize (H2) that it will take several years for the effects of liberalization to become noticeable in the data set. Therefore, I predict that female labor force participation rate changes over 5 years will have little significance, but changes over 8 years will be more likely to produce significance. Finally, I hypothesize (H3) that cultural norms (the presence of sexual harassment laws) will affect several economic factors including the Global Gender Gap Report’s economic inequality, income inequality and wage inequality scores, the change in female labor force participation from 2009 to 2012 and the total current female labor force participation rate.


            In order to fully understand how each trade bloc in this study has affected female access to the labor force, it is important to have a basic understanding of each agreement. This section will briefly summarize each trading bloc, including the current research on the effect on women that reside within the bloc since liberalization.

Synopsis of the major RTAs in the Western Hemisphere


In 1986, Brazil and Argentina signed the Argentina-Brazil Integration and Economic Cooperation Program (PICE), which was designed to begin reducing tariffs on various products bilaterally. In 1991, with the signing of the Treaty of Asuncion, the agreement expanded to Uruguay and Paraguay, and Mercosur was born. A few days after the first Summit of the Americas, the countries of Mercosur signed the Treaty of Ouro Preto, which established an institutional basis for the Mercosur agreement. One year later, on January 1, 1995, Mercosur expanded from a trade agreement to a customs union by establishing an (imperfect) CET (Common External Tariff). Although Mercosur is not without problems, from 1986 to 1995 Argentina’s trade with Mercosur members grew from 8 percent to 25 percent, Brazil’s trade grew from 5 percent to 14 percent and the smaller countries, Paraguay and Uruguay, were trading almost 50 percent of their imports and exports within Mercosur.[93] By 1995, the CET covered 85 percent of bloc-traded goods.

Currently, Mercosur is weakened by infrastructure bottlenecks and extensive customs bureaucracy, though the biggest weakness is a noticeable lack of overarching institutions. The EU has a complex supranational governing structure and NAFTA has one country (the U.S.) with the financial resources to bail out others in times of emergency, yet Mercosur does not have any institution or player that can fill this role.[94] This problem became glaringly apparent in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. A few months after the second Summit of the Americas in 1998, Brazil was forced to abruptly devalue its currency. Brazil managed to save its own economy, but the devaluation led Argentina to struggle with balance of payments problems. Eventually, Argentina was forced to unpeg its currency from the U.S. dollar, causing an economic crisis that spilled over into a social and political crisis in 2002. Although the costs of dropping out of Mercosur were too high, given the political capital and expenditures that went into creating it, Argentina did put up protectionist measures against Brazil, even though this was against Mercosur law. Argentina’s economy and Mercosur were saved only when Brazil finally agreed to give aid money to Argentina.

Since its beginning there has been an inherent tension between the two models of a union that Mercosur has pursued: one of development and the other of regional integration. Since “the early 2000s, the disillusionment with neoliberal reforms and the ‘Washington Consensus’ has strengthened the second model [of regional integration] and coincided with a reorientation of Argentina and Brazil’s foreign economic policy, taking distance from the United States.”[95] In the 1990s, Mercosur became almost a symbol of an alternative power structure in the Western Hemisphere. Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, called Mercosur a “South American platform”, and later, as President of Brazil, he called it “a pole from which we [the member countries of Mercosur] will organize the South American space.”[96] In 2005, Mercosur and CAN expanded South American unity by negotiating a partnership whereby the members of each would serve as associate members of the other. Associate members have privileges, which vary by agreement, but typically include extending a free trade agreement and/or limited voting rights at trade summits. In the case of Mercosur and CAN, they are also aiming to increase political dialogue, deepen their knowledge of each other, intensify political coordination, and move toward more South American unity, potentially even unifying the two agreements in the future.

Venezuela was admitted to Mercosur in 2012. Paraguay had been in staunch opposition to accepting Venezuela’s bid to join Mercosur, but critics from Venezuela and within Mercosur argued that the oppositionists from Paraguay were backed by the United States. Therefore, in 2012, the other countries of Mercosur jumped at the opportunity to suspend Paraguay when President Fernando Lugo was impeached, in what many regional leaders called a parliamentary coup. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina said Paraguay would be suspended “until a democratic process allows for popular sovereignty to be restored.”[97] In the same breath, the leaders of Mercosur announced that Venezuela would become a full member of Mercosur. As of 2013, Paraguay has been reinstated to its full membership status.[98]

Mercosur and Women

While there are examples of groups at the national level dedicated to promoting women’s rights in free trade, Jelin et al. write: “the Mercosur process [has failed to] encourage the creation of a women’s movement that is regional in nature.”[99] Beatriz Etchechury Mazza from Uruguay’s Ministry of Education and Culture agrees with Jelin et al., saying that “women in the Mercosur countries are decades behind their European counterparts… It will take time and a lot of work for us to become strong players in our societies. Perhaps then we will be able to make a difference in the Mercosur area.”[100]

The Mercosur Women’s Forum was created in 1995. “The primary objective of the Forum was to create conditions whereby women might contribute effectively to advance the integration process through their experiences, the vision on general problems and on issues that affect women.”[101] The group also works closely with national trade unions and workers’ unions and has an office in each of the four countries of Mercosur (with the exception of Venezuela since it just joined). However, in practice it has had very little impact on regional law.[102]

The Special Committee on Women (REM) was created by the Common Market Group through Resolution 20/98. The Committee acts as a voice for the Women’s Forum and other associations that focus on issues pertaining to women. It was granted permanent placement in the consultative body, the Economic and Social Forum, where it can offer a gendered perspective to laws that affect women.[103],[104] A recent example of work done by the Committee was to hold the Specialized Women’s Conference in 2003 in which all members and associate members (Chile and Bolivia) sent delegates to discuss the problem of trafficking of women and girls within the bloc.[105]  In 1998, member states committed their general support for workplace equality and equal treatment in the Social and Labor Declaration of Mercosur. However, no concrete plan was formalized until Resolution 84/00 was passed in 2005, asking working forums and groups within Mercosur to incorporate a gendered perspective into their deliberations.[106]

Unionism has been one of the most prevalent social actors in Mercosur.[107] The CCSCS-MERCOSUR Women’s Commission was created in 1997 and charged with several goals:

To encourage the active participation of female workers in Mercosur, send up-to-date information to all unions and women’s departments and secretariats, nationally,… formulate affirmative action policies for women in the region along the lines of [the] commitment to the Beijing Action Platform, adopt the necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and ratify the International Labor Organization agreements.[108]

One marked achievement for unionized women is the Social and Employment Declaration, which guaranteed equal rights and working conditions to all laborers in the four member states.


            In the late 1980s, President Carlos Salinas of Mexico approached U.S. President George Bush Sr. about signing a free trade agreement similar to the agreement that the U.S. had just signed with Canada in 1987. On January 1, 1994, after much negotiation, NAFTA went into effect under President Clinton. Later that year, at the first Summit of the Americas, the three presidents of NAFTA agreed to admit Chile into the agreement as well. Unfortunately, Clinton no longer had the authority to sign trade agreements.[109] Because the U.S. constitution grants Congress the power to regulate trade, Congress had to grant the president “fast-track authority” to autonomously negotiate the specific points of the agreement, and then Congress could either accept it in full or reject it.[110] Less than a year after the passage of NAFTA, and only a few days after the first Summit of the Americas, Mexico experienced a sudden devaluation of the peso. The crisis resulted in a massive IMF bailout consisting of an aid package of $50 billion, two-thirds of which was funded by the United States in an effort to save the economy of its newest trading partner.[111] By 1996, the Mexican economy had fully recovered, but the crisis left a bad taste in the mouth of U.S. policymakers. This event certainly contributed to Clinton’s inability to secure fast-track authority to sign Chile onto NAFTA. Meanwhile, Chile had changed courses and signed bilateral free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and became an associate member of Mercosur in 1996.[112] Argentina also considered entering NAFTA in the early 2000s, but U.S. sentiment in the country turned sour after the U.S. did not provide aid to Argentina during its 2002 crisis, even though Argentina had been a close U.S. ally throughout the 1990s.[113]

NAFTA is different from Mercosur and most of the other agreements in the Western Hemisphere in two important ways. First, NAFTA applies to all member countries equally: it does not formally take into account or provide preferential treatment based on differences in levels of development or wealth. Second, it only applies to the movement and transfer of goods, services, investments and intellectual property rights, not people. Not allowing for the free movement of people is unique to NAFTA and CAFTA-DR. The other four agreements in this study allow for some degree of free movement of people. In this sense, NAFTA is strictly limited to a free trade area and could be considered more minimalist or less intrusive than the other agreements.

Although NAFTA continues to be contentious, it has widely been considered a success because of the “creation of six million jobs in the United States [that are] tied to NAFTA policies, more than $500 billion in goods and services traded between the United States and Mexico, and the ports of Laredo and El Paso [Texas] being among the United States’ busiest [even though they are landlocked.]”[114] By 2001, the Western Hemisphere was buying 45 percent of U.S. exports and providing 36 percent of U.S. imports, 4/5 of which was with Canada and Mexico.[115] By 2010, “the United States had $918 billion in two-way trade with Canada and Mexico, according to the office of Ron Kirk, [the] United States Trade Representative.”[116]

NAFTA and Women

In conjunction with signing NAFTA, the three countries also agreed to the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). The preamble of the text explains the mission of the agreement, which was to:

create an expanded and secure market for the goods and services produced in their territories, enhance the competitiveness of their firms in global markets, create new employment opportunities and improve working conditions and living standards in their respective territories, and protect, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights.[117]

Gender equality and non-discrimination in the workplace are mentioned in part three, article eleven and annex one, section eight, which both state that all parties should be committed to equal pay for equal work for men and women. The text unfortunately never elaborates or creates a plan for action and is often criticized for not prioritizing gender issues. Concha et al. explains that the secondary status of gender-specific labor laws means that if female workers’ rights are violated, signatory countries do not have the power to withdraw trade benefits, convene a panel, or even seek legal redress at the highest levels of corporate management if the company or owner is foreign. Several cases of well-documented sexual harassment and gender discrimination (like forced pregnancy testing) at export-processing centers in Mexico have shown that this oversight has been detrimental to Mexican women.[118]

NAFTA has only had one group of note that was dedicated to women’s issues at the institutional level: Mujer a Mujer (Woman to Woman). This group organized the 1992 Tri-national Working Women’s Conference on Free Trade and Continental Integration during the negotiations for NAFTA, but then disappeared a few years later due to lack of funding. Other activist groups exist at the national level, but NAFTA does not currently have an institutional level group dedicated to women’s issues.[119]

Aguayo-Tellez et al. found ambiguous effects of NAFTA liberalization (and the subsequent increase in foreign direct investment). They found that relative wages for Mexican women increased, and that both within industry and intra-industry shifts favored female workers, including increased hiring of skilled blue-collar women.[120] There was also evidence of shifted household bargaining power indicated by a shift in expenditures from “male” goods like men’s clothing, alcohol and tobacco, to “female” goods including women’s clothing and education. However, the study also revealed that the increased technology associated with liberalization raised women’s relative productivity in blue-collared jobs, but white-collar productivity stayed the same. Empirical evidence therefore only supported increased hiring and increased wages in blue-collar, not white-collar jobs.[121]  Cardero found that the corn and bean industry liberalizations that occurred under NAFTA combined with decreased price supports from the Mexican government for domestic farmers and consumers led to wide-spread job loss for peasant farmers.[122] The displacement of peasant farmers can be viewed positively from an economic perspective because less efficient producers will eventually transfer to sectors where they can be more efficient. However, from a social perspective, the loss of rural production opportunities can in some cases lead to the destruction or impoverishment of indigenous cultures.[123] In reality, White et al. claim that, between 1994 (when NAFTA was implemented) and 2003 (when their study was published), “the number of female-headed households living in poverty in Mexico increased by 50 percent. While the jobs created by NAFTA primarily went to women, they [were] low-waged and insecure jobs in, for example, the border export factories (maquilas). While offering women some autonomy they do not alleviate poverty.”[124] The job loss also increased the instances of temporary labor migration (including undocumented labor migration, mostly to the U.S.), and also the level of female-headed households and female migrant workers.[125],[126]

Community of Andean Nations (CAN)

            The idea of an Andean Community began in 1969 with the signing of the Cartagena Agreement, which created the Andean Pact. In 1996, the Andean leaders committed to reviving the regional integration scheme. They amended the Cartagena Agreement with the Protocol of Trujillio and changed the group’s name to the Community of Andean Nations (CAN). Chile was originally a founding member, but withdrew in 1976 and is now an associate member. Venezuela was also a member from 1973-2006, withdrawing to accept membership into Mercosur over disputes about bilateral agreements between Peru and Colombia with the United States.

            CAN has continued to consolidate since its reawakening in the 90s. Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela began issuing Andean Passports in 2001, and Bolivia and Colombia have since joined them. In 2004, the member countries also approved a common external tariff, and in 2005, citizens of CAN were granted increased freedom of mobility when they were no longer required to have a visa or passport (just a national ID) to travel within CAN member countries.

CAN and Women

            In 2009, representatives from each of the CAN member countries met to create the Andean Advisory Council of High-Level Authorities on Women and Equal Opportunity (CAAAMI). The Council is made up of ministerial ranking officials from each country plus Chile. The Council serves as an advisory body to “support subregional integration in the area of human rights, gender and [intercultural awareness]… with a view to furthering equal opportunities among men and women, eliminating violence [against] women and building a new society that is more just and equitable.”[127]


In 2001, Cuba and Venezuela began discussing the possibility of a regional trading bloc that could be an alternative to the U.S.-backed FTAA. In 2004, that possibility was realized when the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas Trade Treaty for the People (ALBA-TCP) was officially enacted. The world alba in Spanish literally means “dawn,” but the name also invokes Hugo Chavez’s dream of a “Bolivarian revolution,” which refers to Simón Bolívar, an historical figure that liberated many Latin American countries from Spain, and has become a modern-day symbol against U.S. influence in the region. ALBA is associated with the socialist and social-democratic countries of Latin America and has provided support for emerging leftist regimes around the region.

Since 2004, seven more countries have joined ALBA, all of which (in theory) are required to maintain domestic participatory democracies: Bolivia (2006), Nicaragua (2008), Dominica (2008), Honduras (2008-2010), Ecuador (2009), St. Vincent and the Grenadine Islands (2009), and Antigua and Barbuda (2009).[128]

Upon its signing, ALBA was designed to be more than a trade agreement, branching into other realms of international finance, becoming a political alliance and creating a platform for the expression of the agendas of regional social movements. It is made up of three councils: the presidential, the ministerial, and the third is reserved for leaders of international social movements (such as the Via Campesina: an international peasant movement, and the Movimiento Sin Tierra: the Landless Workers’ Movement.) The goal of ALBA is to form an international alliance based on promoting equality domestically and between trading partners, as well as supporting social movements and the environment, and reducing Latin American reliance on foreign powers (especially the U.S.).

In terms of finance, ALBA member states are working to institute a formal hard currency, the “sucre” (the Unitary System of Regional Compensation), which is named after another independence hero and friend of Bolivar, Antonio Jose de Sucre. The sucre is already used as the currency for ALBA trading deals. [129] Aside from the sucre, the ALBA countries have also established the Bank of the ALBA, which is meant to act as an alternative to the IMF. The Bank of the ALBA does not impose loan conditions and was created with the explicit mission of “seeking to eradicate economic asymmetries” across the trading bloc.[130] As of 2008, the Bank of the ALBA had over $1 billion USD, and had set aside money specifically for programs to improve public schools, healthcare and other social services to member states.[131]

ALBA also creates a space for dialogue to enact trade agreements that focus more on creating creative economic policies that promote equality within and between member countries. For example, in 2004, Cuba and Venezuela signed an agreement whereby Cuba receives 1 billion dollars’ worth of subsidized oil in exchange for supplying 30,000 Cuban doctors to work amongst those most needy or at-risk patients in Venezuela who would probably otherwise not have any access to healthcare.[132] Venezuela has also given Cuba buses to aid in public transportation development, helped build an aqueduct and technologically renovate an oil refinery to improve Cuban water supply and increase Cuban exports of profitable oil derivatives.[133] Venezuela has also helped build eight centers in Nicaragua to provide housing and education for the country’s 47,000 homeless children.[134] The goal of ALBA is to promote and facilitate creative trades like these amongst member countries.

ALBA has also helped newly social-democratic or socialist countries if they are shunned by the United States or other trade partners. For example, in 2006 in response to the election of the socialist president, Evo Morales, the U.S. stopped buying Bolivian soybeans. In response, Cuba and Venezuela began importing Bolivian soybeans in order to help save the industry. Additionally, they helped Bolivia improve public schools and hospitals and helped upgrade Bolivia’s gas sector in order to help Bolivia become self-sufficient in its gas-derived energy needs.[135]

Social movements have also played a critical role in the development of ALBA. This is due to the institutional structure, which provides several outlets for workers, students, and social movements. Because of the influence of social movements, five major agricultural projects have been implemented in soybeans, rice, poultry and dairy products to help guarantee food security for all citizens in member states.[136] Plans to build an oil pipeline from Venezuela to Argentina were put on hold due to concerns expressed by various social activists groups over environmental degradation and indigenous rights.[137] Other ALBA policies have been influenced by various groups, leading to the creation of many policies regarding land redistribution, free health care, free education and food security.[138]

ALBA and Women

                  In June, 2009 the member countries of ALBA issued a joint declaration at the VI Extraordinary Summit of ALBA. This declaration included the creation of the “Ministerial Council of Women” which was tasked with the purpose of “ensuring gender mainstreaming in all the integration initiatives and instruments that emanate from ALBA.”[139] Unfortunately, very little research exists on ALBA, and even fewer studies focus exclusively on gender issues in the region.


CAFTA-DR was signed in 2004 by seven member countries: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the U.S. From 2005-2010, as part of the agreement, the U.S. government has given over $142 million in funds for “labor capacity building’ projects such as programs focused on strengthening labor ministries’ and courts’ capacity. The goal was to enforce labor laws in order to promote an overall culture of legal compliance, prevent child labor exploitation, and eliminate gender and other types of discrimination.[140]

CAFTA-DR and Women

                  One of the U.S.-sponsored programs that was implemented as part of the CAFTA-DR agreement that specifically benefits women was the Citizens’ Access to Labor Justice for CAFTA-DR. The U.S. pledged $1.3 million dollars in aid in the fiscal year of 2007-2008 for the project that was designed to span from 2008-2010. The project goal was to “provide training and other support to civil society organizations that provide services (counseling, accessibility, translation for indigenous languages, etc.) to women and other disadvantaged groups to obtain access to labor justice.” In January 2008, 1,000 copies of “One Small Step Forward and A Long Way to Go” were distributed to increase awareness of gender-based work place discrimination, especially in export-processing zones.[141] The project also included “conduct[ing] an audit of court processes that affect women, disabled persons, indigenous groups and other disadvantaged populations, and provided technical assistance to these courts, as well as sensitivity training for judges and public defenders.”[142]


The Caribbean Community (Caricom) stems from what was originally called the West Indies Federation. The Federation formally ended in 1962 after lasting only four years, but in 1965, the countries of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago met to create the CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Association), which was soon replaced by Caricom in 1973 in order to enlarge the agreement to a common market. Caricom quickly expanded as other Caribbean nations joined, and in 1995 Suriname became the 14th and most recent Caricom member. Caricom was brought into existence by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which was revised in 2001.

CARICOM and Women

While the original Treaty of Chaguaramas does not mention female welfare, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishes the Council for Human and Social Development which is responsible for “establish[ing] policies and programs to promote the development of youth and women in the Community with a view to encouraging and enhancing their participation in the social, cultural and economic activities.”[143] For example, CARICOM has set a target of 30% minimum level of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors in all member countries.[144]

In 1980, two sections of the CARICOM Secretariat, the Women’s Affairs Division and the Legal Division, joined to undertake a research project that would examine the legal status of women within CARICOM. The project uncovered that legal protections for women were deficient in six key categories:  citizenship, domestic violence, equal pay, inheritance, sexual harassment, and sexual offenses. Ultimately, these discoveries led to the publication of model legislation on issues affecting women that could be used by national governments to equalize protection of the law in member states.

More recently, CARICOM has made several commitments to increasing the welfare of women in the Caribbean. For example, in 2010, the Secretariat General launched a campaign to work with the United Nation’s “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” to create awareness and to educate the people of CARICOM countries about gender-based violence which is endemic in the Caribbean. Studies have shown that 25 percent of women from Guyana, 30 percent of women from Trinidad and Tobago and 67 percent of women in Suriname have been victims of domestic abuse.[145] In order to combat the rising rate of abuse, fifteen Caribbean artists were trained and commissioned to create “edutainment” material. In a recent speech at the 66th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, Guyana’s Caricom representative spoke on behalf of Caricom to reaffirm Caricom’s commitment to gender equality, stating: “Mr. Chairman… Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women is a central priority for CARICOM States. We believe that women must become equal and full participants in all processes affecting their lives, if a society characterized by justice, peace and development is to be realized.”[146]

In 2011, the CARICOM Secretariat conducted an assessment on the situation of Caribbean women, which found a “linkage between gender inequalities and discrimination on the one hand, and factors such as economic vulnerability of female headed households, the gendered burden of care and the high levels of unemployment and under-employment among women on the other.”[147] The report also projected that efforts to overcome these inequalities have been set back by current financial crisis because of “a shortage of resources to address the structural inequalities.”[148] There has also been a general recognizing by CARICOM member states that sex trafficking of women and girls is becoming a growing issue for all member states.[149] Unfortunately, scholarly articles on the effectiveness of these policies are noticeably lacking.

Methodology, Findings, and Discussion

            I used STATA software to run several linear regression analyses to determine whether RTAs in the Western Hemisphere have aided or detracted from female equality. Initially, I used variations of GDP, agricultural exports, technology, land and capital per worker and occasionally social norms as control variables. I then tested membership in each agreement on each dependent variable: female labor force participation rate, average fertility rates, the Global Gender Gap Report’s economic, political, wage and income inequality scores, and social norms. Due to lack of viable data, the data set was incomplete in many ways and it became clear that a high number of regressors would lead to the production of spurious relationships. It was then decided that the GDP variable would serve as a sufficient proxy for the rest of the control variables in order to maximize sample size. Additionally, several dependent variables did not contain enough variance to produce significance. These variables included adolescent fertility rate and the Global Gender Gap scores, with the exception of wage inequality.

Membership in an RTA had no significance on the remaining dependent variables: normalizing anti-discriminatory policies (sexual harassment laws), changes in wage inequality over time and changes in female labor force participation. Table 3 shows the findings for each agreement’s effect on female labor force participation changes from 2009 to 2012, holding GDP change as constant. Mercosur membership was associated with a slightly negative effect in FLFP, and the rest were insignificant.

Table 3

Membership impact on FLFP, holding GDP change constant



St. Error



Adj. R-squared





































None (GDP change)








Table 4 shows each agreement’s effect on member countries having domestic sexual harassment laws in the work place. Caricom is associated with a decreased likeliness and GDP change is associated with an increased likeliness of having these laws in place, the rest were insignificant. The result for Caricom is surprising because of the organization’s high level of investment in fighting gender-based violence. Possible reasons for this, I predict, are either that their initiatives are not resonating with member countries or that not enough time has passed to begin to see results. 

Table 4

Membership impact on the presence of domestic sexual harassment laws in the work place, holding GDP Change Constant



St. Error



Adj. R-squared





































None (GDP change)








Table 5 shows that none of the agreements were effective at encouraging wage equality in member countries. GDP changes were also insignificant to explain changes in wage equality, indicating increases in GDP continue to be distributed unevenly.




Table 5

Membership impact on wage equality change from 2009-2012, holding GDP Change Constant



St. Error



Adj. R-squared





































None (GDP change)








Since there was very little and sometimes negative relationships between RTA membership and the dependent variables I tested, I’ve concluded that my H1 hypothesis was incorrect. Despite the rhetoric and the various policies and institutions, none of the trade agreements have been effective at encouraging women’s equal participation in domestic economies.

To test my H2 that it would take time for trade agreements to have a noticeable effect on female labor force participation, I used FLFP data for one, five and eight years after the agreement was signed. Eight years was used instead of ten to decrease the number of missing values. Given that trade agreements have proven to be ineffective at affecting FLFP, it is not surprising that this result proves to be inconclusive. CAN was the only agreement that showed any significance, but it did not follow the expected pattern: it affected FLFP at both the 5-year and 8-year change. Mechanistically, this could be due to outside economic factors that were occurring at the time of ratification or due to the increased economic activity associated with the formation of CAN.

Table 6

Membership impact on 5 and 8 year changes in female labor force participation, holding GDP change constant



St. Error



Adj. R-squared

Mercosur 5 year change

8 year change











NAFTA 5 year change

8 year change











CAN 5 year change

8 year change











ALBA 5 year change

8 year change











CAFTA 5 year change

8 year change











CARICOM 5 year change

8 year change











None (GDP change)

5 year change

8 year change)


















            Interestingly, H3 was also incorrect. Sexual harassment laws had no correlation to increased wage equality or female labor force participation. Apparently, sexual harassment laws are not indicative of greater, economy-wide equality shifts in the relative worth of women’s labor, as shown in Table 7. This is, of course, not to say that sexual harassment laws do not have merit outside of these findings.


Table 7

Sexual harassment laws’ impact on wage equality change from 2009-2013



St. Error



Adj. R-squared

harassment laws






harassment laws, holding GDP change constant








These laws also did not affect the rate at which women chose to enter the work force. Table 8 shows female labor force participation changes from 2009 to 2012 were unaffected by sexual harassment laws, even when holding constant for changes in GDP over the same time period.

Table 8

Sexual harassment laws’ impact on female labor force participation change from 2009-2012



St. Error



Adj. R-squared

harassment laws






harassment laws, holding GDP change constant








Most countries without some form of sexual harassment protection in the work place are poorer, less developed countries. These countries are still engaging in production that is highly segregated, so perhaps sexual harassment laws are irrelevant if women are not coming into contact with abusive men during the workday. Another factor could be that economic desperation prevents women from having a true choice of whether or not to withdraw from the labor force.

            Outside of my original hypothesis, I also found, in Table 9, that high levels of hectares of land per person were negatively correlated with female labor force participation changes. This result is not surprising and it is consistent with the findings of Ballara and Parada that the majority of women in agriculture are unpaid workers on family farms.[150] More available land per person only increases the chance that women will have to work on family farms.

Table 9

The impact of hectares of land per person on female labor force participation change from 2009-2012



St. Error



Adj. R-squared

Hectares of land per person (as of 2011), holding GDP change constant








Regional trade agreements could be doing more to promote gender equality within their regions. Espino discusses the importance of “capitaliz[ing] on the momentum of women’s progress” by advancing social justice, improving women’s access to development support and giving them a louder voice in NGOs and social movements.[151] While several, but not all, of the agreements have created institutions to establish a platform for the discussion of women’s issues, none seem to have succeeded in mainstreaming gender-consciousness into discussions at the highest institutional levels.


This paper found: 1) RTAs in the Western Hemisphere did not have a significant effect on introducing anti-discriminatory policies, changing wage inequality over time or increasing female labor force participation. 2) Mercosur has had a slightly negative effect on FLFP and Caricom is negatively associated with the presence of domestic sexual harassment laws. 3) Only CAN was effective at increasing female labor force participation in the first years after signing the agreement. 4) Sexual harassment laws are not associated with higher levels of FLFP or wage equality. 5) Greater levels of land per person are associated with decreased levels of FLFP.

As with many gender-related studies, the data collection was limited by the lack of available or complete gender-separated data sets, especially going back more than two decades. Small sample sizes and low variation limited the robustness and scope of this study. Fortunately, awareness of this issue is on the rise and gender-separated data is becoming more available all the time. Further research could build off the groundwork from this paper to continue to uncover policies and variables that affect female equality. For example, due to data limitations, this paper does not include findings on equality in political representation.

There remains much to be researched in the relatively new field of gender and trade economics.  Research on individual trade agreements is highly preliminary, especially for small-economy agreements like CARICOM, CAFTA-DR, and ALBA. While existing literature has not yet fully agreed on the mechanisms and the extent to which trade liberalization affects women on a country by country basis, there is a general consensus that historically, on an international level, Asian women have benefitted while Latin American women have not. Yet this trend is now in reverse. This begs the question of whether Latin America will continue to see a rise in female labor force participation or if a defeminization of industry will occur in the future as Latin America progresses away from low-skilled production. Future research should carefully monitor Latin America for signs of regression in rates of female economic participation and equality.

There are very few comparative studies of how the various trading blocs in the Western Hemisphere have affected women differently. Despite progress in the realm of rhetoric and policy creation, the actual effects on women are negligible for all blocs. This study resonates in the current literature because the number of RTAs in the Western Hemisphere is on rise with the recent signing of the Pacific Alliance between Chile, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica. Scholars should continue to research in this field to ensure that women, both in the Western Hemisphere and around the world, are not systematically excluded from the benefits of freer trade.

Works Referenced

Aguayo-Tellez, Ernesto, Jim Airola, and Chinhui Juhn. "Did Liberalization Help Women? The Case of Mexico in the 1990s."NBER Working Paper Series, (July 2010).

Aguilar, Julian. "Twenty Years Later, Nafta Remains a Source of Tension." The Economist, December 2, 2012, A25A

ALBA-TCP. "Joint Declaration at the VI Extraordinary Summit."

Arriagada, Irma. "Changes and Inequality in Latin American Families." CEPAL Review 77 (August 2002): 135-53.

Azar, Paola. "Una mirada a la apertura comercial desde la perspectiva de género: Impactos sobre el mercado de trabajo (1991–2000): Los casos de Argentina, Brasil, Colombia y Uruguay." Capitulo Latinoamericano de la Red Internacional de Género y Comercio (2004).

Barrientos, Stephanie, Naila Kabeer, and Naomi Hossain. "The Gender Dimensions of the Globalization of Production."International Labor Organization (May 2004).

Ballara, Marcela, and Soledad Parada. "Rural Women Work More and Earn Less." United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America.,(2009).

Bardhan, Pranab. Scarcity, conflicts and cooperation: Essays in the political and institutional economics of development. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.

Bernier, Ivan, and Martin Roy. "Nafta and Mercosur: Two Competing Models?" In The Americas in Transition : The Contours of Regionalism, edited by Gordon Mace and Louis Belanger, 69-91. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, (1999).

Black, Sandra, and Elizabeth Brainerd. "Importing Equality? The Impact of Globalization on Gender Discrimination."Industrial and Labor Relations Review 57, no. 4 (2004): 540-99.

Boske, Leigh B. Transportation in the Americas: Its Role in International Trade, Economic Integration, and Sustainable Development. Austin: University of Texas, (2000). ProQuest.

Brand, Diana. "Free Trade in Latin America: a successful way out of crisis?" Intereconomics, (November 1991): 286-95. PAIS International.

Bussolo, Maurizio, and Rafael E. de Hoyos. Gender Aspects of the Trade and Poverty Nexus: A Macro-micro Approach. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Publications, (2009).

Cagatay, Nilufer. "Trade, Gender adn Poverty." United Nations Development Program (October 2001).

Cardero, Maria E. "The Impact of NAFTA on Female Employment in Mexico." UNIFEM (2000).

Cardoso, Fernando H. "O Brasil e uma Nova América do Sul." Valor Economico (August 30, 2000).

Caribbean Community Secretariat. "Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas Establishing the Caribbean Community Including the Caricom Single Market and Economy."

Carranza, Mario. "Clinging Together: Mercosur's Ambitious External Agenda, Its Internal Crisis and the future of Regional Economic Integration in South America." Review of International Political Economy 13, no. 5 (December 2006): 802-29. JSTOR.

Carranza, Mario. "Mercosur and the end game of the FTAA negotiations: challenges and prospects after the Argentine Crisis."Third World Quarterly 25, no. 2 (March 2004): 319-37. EBSCOhost.

Cernat, Lucian. "Assessing Regional Trade Arrangements: Are South-South RTAs More Trade Diverting?" Policy Issues in International Trade and Commodities (2001).

Cervo, Amado Luiz, and Clodoaldo Bueno. História da Política Exterior do Brasil. 3rd ed. Brasilia: Editora UnB, (2008).

Comunidad Andina. "Gender and Equal Opportunity." Accessed March 9, 2014.

Concha, Leonor A., Rocio Espinosa, and Miriam Martinez. "Trade Impact Review: Legal and Regulator Analysis of NAFTA and the FTAA on Women's Rights." Women's Edge Coalition, (2004).

Crump, Larry. "Negotiation Process and Negotiation Context." International Negotiation 16 (2011): 197-227. EBSCOhost.

"Curbing Abuse of Women." Nation News: Barbados, (October 2010).

Do, Quy-Toan, Andrei Levchenko, and Claudio Raddatz. "Engendering Trade." World Development Report 2012, (2011): 1-39.

Dolan, Catherine and Kristina Sorby. Gender and employment in high-value agricultural industries. Agriculture and rural development working paper, no. 7. Washington, DC: World Bank. (2003).

Duflo, Esther. "Women Empowerment and Economic Development." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (2012): 1051-79.

Duina, Francesco. "Varieties of Regional Integration: The EU, NAFTA and Mercosur." Journal of European Integration 28, no. 3 (2006): 247-75.

Duina, Francesco. The Social Construction of Free Trade : the European Union, NAFTA, and MERCOSUR. Princeton: Princeton University Press, (2006b).

Edwards, Alejanda C., and Sebastian Edwards. "Labor Market Distortions and Structural Adjustment in Developing Countries." In Labor Markets in an Era of Adjustment. Volume 1: Issues Papers, edited by Susan Horton, Ravi Kanbur, and Dipak Mazumdar, 105-46. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, (1994).

Elbeshbishi, Amal Nagah. “A bird cannot fly with just one wing. Towards a gender-balanced trading system.” Paper presented at the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Expert Meeting on Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policy, Geneva, (March, 2009).

Elson, Diana. Gender-neutral, gender-blind, or gender-sensitive budgets? Changing the conceptual framework to include women’s empowerment and the economy of care. Gender Budget Initiative background papers, (1999)

Elson, Diane, and Ruth Pearson. "Introduction: Nimble fingers and foreign investments." In Women’s employment and multinationals in Europe, edited by Diane Elson and Ruth Pearson, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989.

Feenstra, Robert C., Robert Inklaar and Marcel P. Timmer, "The Next Generation of the Penn World Table", (2013). Available for download at

Dyer, Geoff. "Role Reversal." New Republic 19, no. 229 (November 10, 2003): 14-18. Academic Search Premier.

Espino, Alma. "Impacting MERCOSUR's Gender Policies: Experiences, Lessons Learned, and the Ongoing Work of Civil Society in Latin America." Montreal International Forum (2008).

Folbre, Nancy. “Who Pays for the Kids? Gender and the Structures of Constraint.” New York: Routledge, (1994).

Fontana, Marzia. "The Gender Effects of Trade Liberalization in Developing Countries: A Review of the Literature." In Gender Aspects of the Trade and Poverty Nexus: A Macro-Micro Approach, edited by Maurizio Bussolo and Rafael E. De Hoyos, Washington, D.C.: World Bank, (2009).

Freund, Caroline, and Emanuel Ornelas. "Regional Trade Agreements." World Bank Policy Research Papers (2010).

Gaddis, Isis, and Janneke Pieters. "Trade Liberalization and Female Labor Force Participation: Evidence from Brazil."Institute for the Study of Labor Working Papers (August 2012).

Galor, Oded, and David Weil. "The Gender Gap, Fertility, and Growth." The American Economic Review 86, no. 3 (June 1996): 374-87. JSTOR.

Gasparini, Leonardo, and Nora Lustig. "The Rise and Fall of Income Inequality in Latin America." Tulane Economics Working Paper Series 22, no. 1 (February 2011): 1-17.

Gibb, Heather. "Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policy." The North-South Institute (May 2008): 7-34.

Gine, Xavier, Ghazala Mansuri, and Mario Picon. "Does a Picture Paint a Thousand Words? Evidence from a Microcredit Marketing Experiment." World Bank (April 2012).

Gomez Mera, Laura. "Explaining Mercosur's Survival: Strategic Sources of Argentine-Brazilian Convergence." Journal of Latin American Studies 37, no. 1 (February 2005): 109-40. PAIS International.

Gratius, Susanne, and Mariam G. Saraiva. "Continental Regionalism: Brazil's prominent role in the Americas." CEPS Working Documents (February 2013): 1-12. CIAO.

GTZ, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. "Women's Economic Opportunities in the Formal Private Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Focus on Entrepreneurship." World Bank (2010).

Hattingh, Shawn. "ALBA: Creating a Regional Alternative to Neo-liberalism?"

Heath, Rachel, and Mushfiq Mobarak. "Suppy and Demand Constraints on Educational Investment: Evidence from Garment Sector Jobs and the Female Stipend Program in Bangladesh." (October 21, 2011).

International Labour Office (ILO). Women in Labour Markets: Measuring Progress and Identifying Challenges. Geneva: ILO. (2010).

Jelin, Elizabeth, Teresa Valdes, and Line Bareiro. "Gender and Nationhood in Mercosur: Notes for Approaching the Subject." United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. (1998). EbscoHost.

Jones, Nicola, and Hayley Baker. "Untangling links between trade, poverty and gender." Overseas Development Institute Briefing Paper (2008): 1-4.

Klugman, Jeni, and Elisa Gamberoni. "Gender and Trade: A fresh look at the evidence." International Trade Forum Magazine (July 1, 2012).

Knowles, Stephen, Paula Lorgelly, and P. D. Owen. "Are Educational Gender Gaps a Break on Economic Development? Some Cross-Country Empirical Evidence." Oxford Economic Papers 54 (2002): 118-49.

Kuczynski, Pedro-Pablo, and John Williamson (eds.). After the Washington Consensus: Restarting Growth and Reform in Latin America. Council on Foreign Relations (2003).

LaRoque, Irwin. "Statement by the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community." CARICOM. (March 8, 2014) 002E

Levinshon, James. "Employment Responses to International Liberalization in Chile." Journal of International Economics 47, no. 2 (April 1999): 321-44.

Lynch, John. Simón Bolívar: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. Google Scholar.

McKay, Connor. "The Lost Decade: Census data outlines bush era setbacks in poverty, income and health coverage." The New Democratic Leadership Council (January, 2010).

Medina, Tahina O. "7 Years on from the Creation of the ALBA -TCP."

MERCOSUR. "Report: Specialized Women's Conference." (2003).

"Mercosur suspends Paraguay over Lugo impeachment." The Economist, June 29, 2012

Office of the United States Trade Representative. "CAFTA-DR Labor Capacity Building."

Oostendorp, Remco H. "Globalization and the Gender Wage Gap." Wold Bank Economic Review 1, no. 23 (January 6, 2009).

Paul-Majumder, Pratima, and Anwara Begum. Engendering Garment Industry: The Bangladesh Context. N.p.: The University Press Limited, (2006).

Papyrakis, Elissaios, Arlette Covarrubias, and Arjan Verschoor. "Gender and Trade: A Review of Theory and Evidence." DEV Working Paper Series, The School of International Development (July 2009).

Pearson, Ruth. ‘“Nimble fingers” revisited: Reflections on women and Third World industrialization in the late twentieth century.’ In Cecile Jackson and Ruth Pearson, eds. Feminist visions of development. London: Routledge. (1998).

Phillips, Nicola. "Hemispheric Integration and Subregionalism in the Americas." International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 79, no. 4 (2003): 327-49.

Rees, Ray, and Ray Riezman. "Globalization, Gender and Growth." Review of Income and Wealth 58, no. 1 (2012): 107-17.

Sanger, David E., and Anthony DePalma. "U.S. Bailout of Mexico Verging On Success or Dramatic Failure." New York Times, April 2, 1995.

Saure, Philip, and Hosny Zoabi. "Effects of Trade Liberalization on Female Labor Force Participation." Swiss National Bank (2009).

Schvarzer, Jorge. "Mercosur: the prospects for regional integration." NACLA Report on the Americas 31 (May 1998): 25 -27. PAIS International.

Seguino, Stephanie. "Gender Wage Inequality and Export-Led Growth in South Korea." Journal of Development Studies 2, no. 34 (1997): 102-32.

Seguino, Stephanie, and Caren Grown. "Gender Equity and Globalization: Macroeconomic Policy for Developing Countries."Journal of International Development 1, no. 18 (2006): 1091-104.

Serafirmov, Alex. "Social Change in Venezuela." Interstate Journal of International Affairs. March 2, 2012.

Smith, Sally, Diana Auret, Stephanie Barrientos, Catherine Dolan, Karin Kleinbooi, Chosani Njobvu, Maggie Opondo, and Anne Tallontire. "Ethical Trade in African Horticulture: Gender, Rights and Participation." Research Report for the UK Department for International Development (March 2004).

Stokes, Bruce. "Brazil's Brush-Off." National Journal 33, no. 15 (April 14, 2001): 1096-100. EBSCOhost.

Taccone, Juan Jose. "MERCOSUR Report Number 4 : January-June 1998." edited by Uziel Nogueria, 32. Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank, (1998).

Talbot, George. "Statement by George Talbot on Behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on Agenda Item 28: Advancement of Women." United Nations.

Teixeira, Carlos Gustavo Poggio. "Brazil and the institutionalization of South America: from hemispheric estrangement to cooperative hegemony." Revista Brasileira de Politica Internacional 54, no. 2 (December 2011): 189-211. EBSCOhost.

Tejani, Sheba, and William Milberg. "Global Defeminization? Industrial Upgrading, Occupational Segmentation and Manufacturing Employment in Middle-Income Countries." Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (April 27, 2010).

Ulshoefer, Petra. "Mercosur and the Challenges for the Integration and Participation of Women in the World of Work." International Labor Organization (1998).

UN Women. "Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice." (2011).

United States Department of Labor. "North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation."

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Trade and Development Report. (2007).

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policy, Geneva: UNCTAD. (2009).

United Nations Radio. "Violence against women and girls the most widespread human rights violations: CARICOM." (March 8, 2013).

Ventura-Dias, Vivianne. "Beyond Barriers: The Gender Implications of Trade Liberalization in Latin America." International Institute for Sustainable Development. (2010).

Verification Report on the Implementation of the White Paper Recommendations Period: August 2007 –January 2008, Central America and the Dominican Republic. ILO. (May 2008).

von Braun, Joachim, Ken Johm, and Detlev Puetz. "Nutritional Effects of Commercialization of a Woman's Crop: Irrigated Rice in The Gambia." In Agricultural Commercialization, Economic Development and Nutrition, edited by Joachim von Braun and Eileen Kennedy, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, (1994).

White, Marceline, Carlos Salas, and Sarah Gammage. "Mexico case study: NAFTA and the FTAA: A Gender Analysis of Employment and Poverty Impacts in Agriculture." Women's Edge Coalition (2003).

Wold, B.K. "Supply Response in a Gender-Perspective: The Case of Structural Adjustment in Zambia." Statistics Norway27, no. 2 (1991).

World Bank. "Gender Equality and Development: World Development Report 2012." 2011.

World Bank. "World DataBank Development Indicators 1960-2013."

World Economic Forum. "The Global Gender Gap Report 2009."

World Economic Forum. "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013."

World Health Organization. "Washington Consensus." (2002.)


[1] (World Bank, 2011)

[2] (Lynch, 2008, f161)

[3] (Ventura-Dias, 2010, VI)

[4] (Bussolo and de Hoyos, 2009)

[5] (World Bank, 2011)

[6] (Cagatay, 2001, 18)

[7] (Bussolo and de Hoyos, 2009)

[8] (GTZ et al, 2010)

[9] (Ibid.)

[10] (Oostendorp, 2009)

[11] (World Economic Forum, 2013)

[12] (World Development Report, 2011)

[13] (UNCTAD, 2009)

[14] (Arriagada, 2002)

[15] (World Bank, 2011)

[16] (Kuczynski and Williamson, 2003, 21-22)

[17] (McKay, 2010)

[18] (Kuczynski and Williamson, 2003, 23)

[19] (Phillips, 2003, 331)

[20] (Stokes, 2001)

[21] (Teixeira, 2011, 191)

[22] (Cervo and Bueno, 2008, 488)

[23] (Schvarzer, 821)

[24] (Ibid.).

[25] (Cervo and Bueno, 2008, 488)

[26] Dyer, 2003, 15)

[27] (Bernier and Roy, 1999, 69)

[28] (Medina, 2012)

[29] (UNCTAD, 2007, VII)

[30] (Cernat, 2001)

[31] (UNCTAD, 2007, 61)

[32] (Freund and Ornelas, 2010)

[33] (Galor and Weil, 1996)

[34] (Knowles, Lorgelly and Owen, 2002)

[35] (Rees and Riezman, 2012)

[36] (Edwards and Edwards, 1994)

[37] (Ventura-Diaz, 2010, VI)

[38] (Elson and Pearson, 1989, 1)

[39] (Bussolo and de Hoyos, 2009)

[40] (Ventura-Diaz, 2010, 14)

[41] (Jones and Baker, 2008)

[42] (Gaddis and Pieters, 2012, 1)

[43] (Ibid., 2)

[44] (Black and Brainerd, 2004)

[45] (Tejani and Milberg, 2010)

[46] (Klugman and Gamberoni, 2012)

[47] (Ibid.)

[48] (Paul-Majumder and Begum, 2000)

[49] (World Bank, 2011)

[50] (Ventura-Diaz, 2010, VII)

[51] (Ibid.)

[52] (Ibid.)

[53] (Wold, 1997)

[54] (von Braun et al. 1994)

[55] (Ventura-Dias, 2010, VII)

[56] (ILO, 2010, 46)

[57] (Ballara and Parada, 2009)

[58] (Dolan and Sorby, 2003)

[59] (Fontana, 2009a, 10)

[60] (Elson and Pearson, 1989, 1)

[61] (GTZ et al., 2010)

[62] (Ibid.)

[63] (Ibid.)

[64] (Smith et al. 2004, 32)

[65] (Papyrikis et al. 2009, 19)

[66] (Gine et al. 2011)

[67] (Ventura-Dias, 2010, VII)

[68] (Saure and Zoabi, 2009, 1-4)

[69] (Ibid., 3)

[70] (Do et al., 2011, 22)

[71] (Duflo, 2012)

[72] (World Bank, 2011)

[73] (Pearson, 1998, 178)

[74] (GTZ, et. Al 2010)

[75] (World Bank, 2011)

[76] (Seguino, 1997)

[77] (Azar, 2004)

[78] (Levinshon, 1999)

[79] See also Ozler 2007, a study which found that job reallocation rates in Turkey were twice as high for women as men.

[80] (Barrientos, Kabeer and Hossain, 2004)

[81] (Heath and Mobarak, 2011)

[82] (Papyrikis et al., 2009, 13)

[83] (Gibb, 2009, 12)

[84] (Ventura-Dias, 2010, 5)

[85] (Tejani and Milberg, 2010)

[86] (Elson, 1999)

[87] (Gibb, 2009, 10)

[88] (Barrientos, Kabeer and Hossain, 2004)

[89] (World Bank, 2011)

[90] (White, Salas and Gammage, 2003)

[91] (Bardham, 2005)

[92] (Klugman and Gamberoni, 2012)

[93] (Schvarzer, 1998)

[94] (Carranza, 2006, 805)

[95] (Dyer, 2003, 15)

[96] (Cardoso, 1998, 127)

[97] (“Mercosur suspends Paraguay”, 2012)

[98] (Ibid.)

[99] (Jelin et al., 1998)

[100] (Duina, 2006b)

[101] (Taccone, 1998)

[102] (Ulshoefer, 1998)

[103] (Duina, 2006, 8)

[104] (Espino, 2008)

[105] (MERCOSUR, 2003)

[106] (Duina, 2006, 7)

[107] (Espino, 2008)

[108] (Ibid.)

[109] (Teixeira, 2011, 193)

[110] (Ibid.)

[111] (Sanger and DePalma, 1995)

[112] (Teixeira, 2011, 194)

[113] (Ibid., 198)

[114] (Aguilar, 2010, A25A)

[115] (Stokes, 2001)

[116] (Aguilar, 2010, A25A)

[117] (U.S. Department of Labor, "North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation.")

[118] (Concha et al., 2004)

[119] (Duina, 2006, 8)

[120] (Aguayo-Tellez et al., 2010)

[121] (Ibid.)

[122] (Cardero, 2000)

[123] (White, Salas, Gammage, 2003)

[124] (Ibid.)

[125] (Cardero, 2000)

[126] (White, Salas, Gammage, 2003)

[127] Comunidad Andina, “Gender and Equal Opportunity”

[128] (Hattingh, 2008)

[129] (Serafirmov, 2012)

[130] (Ibid.)

[131] (Hattingh, 2008)

[132] (Ibid.)

[133] (Ibid.)

[134] (Ibid.)

[135] (Ibid.)

[136] (Ibid.)

[137] (Ibid.)

[138] (Serafimov, 2012)

[139] (ALBA-TCP, 2009)

[140] (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 2011)

[141] (Verification Report, 2003)

[142] (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 2011)

[143] (Caribbean Community Secretariat)

[144] (Talbot, 2011)

[145] (Curbing the Abuse of Women, 2010)

[146] (Talbot, 2011)

[147] (Talbot, 2011)

[148] (Ibid.)

[149] (United Nations Radio, 2013)

[150] (Ballara and Parada, 2009)

[151] (Espino, 2008)


Protesting to Pray: A critical case study of how Women of the Wall used Jewish male garments and other strategies to influence Israel's policies, Chelsea Miller


            This paper analyzes the organizational strategies for mobilization used by Jewish female activists at the Kotel in Jerusalem, particularly through a critical case study of the Israeli-based activist group Women of the Wall (WOW). Feminist social movement theories for outsider tactics, such as symbolic political strategies, and other activist strategies like transnationalism are referenced to compare these tactics with instances of success in WOW’s movement. This paper explains symbolic strategies of traditional Jewish male garments worn by WOW participants, and how the wearing of garments like tallitot and tefillin have led to arrests, the media’s representation of these arrests, and finally, policy changes for religious freedoms in Israel. These policy changes were the result of certain arrests and key social movement strategies in WOW’s movement. The study seeks to answer the question: “Does the use of traditional Jewish male garments in women’s movements at the Kotel in Jerusalem affect policy changes related to women’s religious freedoms in Israel?” The author argues that a relationship exists between the activists’ strategies (including the wearing of garments) and policy changes for religious freedoms by the Israeli religious and secular governments. This connection is created by media influences from the reporting of multiple arrests associated with such religious garments, which made the movement significantly more noticeable to the Israeli government.



INTRODUCTION.……………………………………………………………………..……… 4

  1. Thesis Statement
  2. Methodology

BACKGROUND.………………………………………………………………………...…… 13

  1. Women and Halakhah
  2. Israel: Government, Judaism, and Gender
  3. The Kotel

WOW: AN INTRODUCTION.……………………………………………………………… 22

  1. Jewish Feminism at the Kotel
  2. The Dynamics of WOW
  3. WOW’s Roadblocks and Legal Struggles

ACTIVIST STRATEGIES OF WOW.……………………………………………………… 28

  1. What is a Social Movement?
  2. Intersectionality: An Introduction to WOW’s Movement
  3. Outsider Tactics: Symbolic Politics.
  4. Active Resistance
  5. Transnationalism, Non-State Actors, Demonstrations, and Framing


  1. WOW’s Arguments for Tallit
  2. WOW in Court: The Legal History
  3. The Media’s Response
  4. Policy Changes for Religious Freedoms at the Kotel


APPENDIX.…………………………………………………………………………………… 57

  1. Interview
  2. Glossary of Terms (Italicized terms- found here)

WORKS CITED.….………………………………………………………………………..… 61




            It is early, about 7 a.m. in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. A woman arrives to the Kotel, among many others, on the first day of the Jewish month to pray. The services will begin soon, so the woman hurries to the security line to enter into the Kotel plaza. She gives her prayer shawl to a male friend to put inside his bag. They then pass through security with no issues. Once inside the plaza, the man returns the prayer shawl to the woman. She then walks right to enter the women’s section of the Kotel. Many other women wishing to hold prayer services surround her. There is no Torah for the women, but someone passes out prayer books. The woman puts on her prayer shawl, as she is accustomed to from her own synagogue. She unwraps the shawl in the appropriate manner and simply swings it over her shoulders. The first prayer begins. In moments, a guard approaches her. The guard asks the woman to wear the shawl as a scarf. The way she is currently wearing it is not according to custom—it’s too masculine. She refuses. To wear the prayer shawl like a scarf would go against her custom in this Jewish prayer service. Because she ignores the guard’s orders, the police arrest the woman. She is escorted out of the Kotel plaza and detained by police in a local station. She is fingerprinted, interrogated, and fined. The woman is eventually released with charges of disturbing the peace due to her choice to wear untraditional garments in the holy site space.

            The story above was an all too common one for women (and male allies) fighting for religious equality at the Kotel in Jerusalem. Also known as the Western or Wailing Wall, many consider this space as one of the holiest places for the Jewish people (The Kotel 2013). The fight for religious freedoms takes place as a monthly demonstration for all Jews to pray in the space. These demonstrations of prayers have become a social movement. This prayer shawl, I argue, is a key strategy for changing such restrictions on religious expression at the Kotel. In this paper, I examine how one activist group gathers while they protest for religious freedoms at the Kotel. I analyze their methods and tactics. Then, I examine the reactions to these tactics, such as the media’s and the government’s responses. I later draw a relationship between certain methods for mobilization and policy changes created by the Israeli government for religious freedoms at holy sites such as the Kotel. Finally, I determine whether a combination of using traditional Jewish male garments and other key strategies in protests at the Kotel affect policy changes related to Jewish women’s religious freedoms at holy sites in Israel.

            This movement to promote religious equality began on December 01, 1988, when a group of Jewish women gathered at the Kotel in Jerusalem to collectively pray (Shakdiel 2002 129). The group gathered in the “women’s only” section of the plaza. They began a service of a “multidenominational group of approximately seventy women with a Torah scroll to conduct a halakhic women’s prayer service” (Chesler 2003 xix). The following is a recount of this first gathering:

As no provision for Torah reading exists in the women’s section, we brought a small folding table with us, upon which to rest the sefer Torah (Torah scroll). We stood together and prayed aloud together; a number of us wore tallitot (prayer shawls). Our service was peaceful until we opened the Torah scroll. Then a woman began yelling. She insisted that women are not permitted to read from a Torah scroll. This alerted some charedi (right-wing fundamentalist) men, who stood on chairs in order to look over the mechitzah (the barrier separating men and women). The men began to loudly curse us (Chesler 2003 xx).


            The Jewish women finished their Torah reading on that winter day in 1988. Editors and participants Chesler and Haut recount the late Rabbi Yehuda Getz, then the Kotel administrator, as saying to a complaining protestor of the women’s prayer service, “Let them continue. They are not violating Halakhah” (Chesler 2003 xx). Although these women were not violating Jewish law at the Kotel, their simple actions were monumental. They challenged gendered traditions entrenched in Judaism for centuries. The main argument against the women’s prayer services at the Kotel is centralized in the claim that women were not praying according to halakhic customs. However, the women praying at the Kotel strive to follow Halakhah during each service.

            Twenty-five years after their first controversial gathering, a group of Jewish women formed Women of the Wall (hereafter WOW). Participants of WOW still continue its fight for an egalitarian space for halakhic prayer at the Kotel. WOW continues its mission to practice as it did during their first gathering: “Since that first group service, our struggle has consisted of an attempt to relive that first service; to once again pray together at that holy site, wear tallitot, and read aloud from a Torah scroll. We have endured violence, spent many years in court, and raised many thousands of dollars to this end” (Chesler 2003 xx). These core goals are at the very foundation of this group’s reasons for activism: to pray together as women, to wear their prayer garments as women, and to read collectively and aloud from a Torah scroll as women at the Kotel without ramifications for arrests or charges. I define “success” within their movement as accomplishing these listed goals.

            As stated, I ultimately answer the question, “Does the use of traditional Jewish male garments in protests at the Kotel in Jerusalem affect policy changes related to women’s religious freedoms in Israel?” In order to do so, I have structured this paper as follows: I first describe my methodology for obtaining this research. Then, I present background information of certain concepts and places to familiarize the reader with the circumstances of this particular movement. In these sections and throughout this paper, key theories are presented to support each subject matter. Then, I delve into the research involving WOW’s specific social movement theories and legal/ political timelines. I use the theories and timelines to draw conclusions on the success of WOW’s movement and the future of religious freedoms at the Kotel. I analyze these successes by presenting key media and government strategies and instances that have affected WOW’s movement.


            As a student studying both International Affairs and Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado, I am fascinated by the intersections of religion and gender in social movements. To narrow the international arena for the purpose of this paper, I chose the holiest site for the Jewish people as my site of study. I also chose the Kotel because of its complex governance. After researching the Kotel and Israeli laws, I was surprised how a unique Israeli statute related to the administration of the Holy places governs the Kotel; “The statute vests in the minister of religions the power to regulate the Wall. The minister in turn created a position called “the Rabbi of the Wall,” and endowed the Rabbi with the authority to administer the place” (Lahay 2011 04). As I investigated the Kotel further, I discovered the activist group WOW and what their movement entails.

            WOW is a diverse group of women who gather monthly in solidarity to advocate for religious freedoms by praying openly at the Kotel in Jerusalem, Israel (Chesler 2003 xx). WOW participates in religious expressions traditionally reserved for Jewish men at this site, such as praying aloud, reading from the Torah, and wearing traditional prayer garments. These simple forms of expressions are the tools with which WOW mobilizes to achieve its activist goals. “Israeli criminal law does not directly prohibit WOW to hold collective prayers at the Wall. But over two decades ago, the Rabbi of the Wall issued a regulation prohibiting any prayer that is not “in keeping” with Jewish custom (minhag hamakom)” (Lahay 2011 04). This prohibition outlaws most of the goals of WOW’s prayer services simply because of their status as women in this space. Otherwise, their actions are in keeping with Jewish custom if men were engaging in such prayer tactics.  

            I use WOW as a critical case study to explore how symbolic strategies and other tactics of mobilization are used to achieve activist goals at the Kotel. WOW failed multiple times to directly impact the state’s existing laws of the Kotel through Supreme Court cases and appeals, and it failed to influence the Orthodox establishment’s opinions in the matter. Since WOW could not influence policies directly, this organization thereafter utilized activist strategies as outsiders for constructive mobilizations. Members of WOW function as outsiders to both the secular and religious departments of the Israeli government. A key outsider tactic is symbolic politics, in which movements “capture public attention, politicize neglected issues, and dramatize the seriousness of the social justice issues at stake” (Hawkesworth 2006 73). WOW falls into this category for its distinct prayer gatherings on Rosh Chodesh and its participants’ distinguishable use of what are considered to be “male” prayer garments. These prayer garments include items like tallitot and tefillin. WOW participants do not wear these garments explicitly to protest religious freedoms at the Kotel. Although the women’s choices to wear prayer garments are personal rather than political, their decisions to wear the garments are a form of activism. I argue this because these garments are transgressive at the Kotel when a woman wears her prayer garment in this space (even though it is her religious custom to do so during prayer). These women are engaging in protest to demonstrate against the restrictions imposed against their garments and actions. My timeline for research begins with WOW’s first gathering in 1988 and my research ends on. March 05, 2014. 

            The following is information on how I conducted my research. I used mixed methods research to complete this paper. I found the mixed methods approach as most suitable and thorough for this study. According to Reinharz: “Contemporary ethnography or field work is multi method research. It usually includes observation, participation, archival analysis, and interviewing, thus combining the assets and weaknesses of each method. It does not typically include testing or large-scale surveys, methods identified with a positivist perspective in the social sciences” (Reinharz 1992 46). I conducted field research from outside the field, but I was able to accomplish multi methods research via web communications. I used traditional mediums, like books and articles, and also conducted primary research from participant observation, interviews, and electronic media. Recent political reforms for religious freedoms would be impossible without WOW’s efforts. These activist tactics (of wearing the garments) influenced policies when the arrests of WOW activists drew the public’s attention in the media. Previous efforts that were less controversial will be contrasted with this more effective strategy.

A. Participant Observation

            WOW live-streams its services on the Internet. To understand how the services were conducted and how the participants interacted, I followed the link that was posted on WOW’s Facebook page to watch live videos of the gatherings. This was an important component of my research, because without it, I could not fully understand what was occurring at the Kotel.

B. Interviews

            The interviews were not used as evidence for my findings. The quotes collected within the interviews were used to support the theories and ideas throughout the paper.

            a. Interviewees: See Appendix 1. a. for more information on interviewees as a sample.

1. Lorraine Skupsky

            I interviewed Lorraine Skupsky on December 17, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. She is a resident of both Israel and the United States. She identifies as Jewish, from the Conservative denomination. Skupsky is also a participant of WOW, and she prays with the group whenever she is in Israel. Even before she became a citizen of Israel in 2004, Skupsky flew to Israel every summer since 1999 to pray with WOW. She commented: “I stand with the Women of the Wall when I pray. I use my own Siddur, but I sing along with the prayers and the Psalms” (Skupsky). In her own words, she prays with WOW because:

            I think it’s very important for everybody, be it women, men, girls, or boys, if they choose            to pray, to be able to pray the way that they want to pray… I thought it was very, very            important to change the restrictive pattern of behavior that was evident at the Western      Wall, and I knew that one person could not change a group behavior. So if I was to be            part of a group, I wanted to make sure the group portrayed and projected values which I           

            believed in.


I chose to interview Skupsky because she chooses to wear a kippah and tallit while praying. On August 09, 2012 she was arrested for wearing a tallit.

2. Rene Feinstein

            I interviewed Rene Feinstein on December 29, 2013 via Skype. She holds citizenship in both Israel and the United States. As Feinstein explained, she belongs to a conservative synagogue, but her Jewish denomination affiliation may appear complicated. Feinstein states: “That is where I pray [the conservative synagogue] because women are counted in the Minyan and are given full access to religious ritual. But, I lead an Orthodox life.” Feinstein regularly attends WOW services, and she has been going to the Kotel with WOW for about 10-12 years. When asked why she prays at the Kotel, Feinstein replied: “Kotel is Judaism’s holiest site, and I think it’s important for women to be able to pray there” (Feinstein). She wears tallit and tefillin when she prays at the Kotel because, as she stated: “that’s how I pray every morning.” I interviewed Feinstein because she wears these prayer garments regularly and attends WOW services.

3. Rachel Cohen Yeshurun

            I interviewed Rachel Cohen Yeshurun on January 05, 2014 via Skype. She moved to Israel when she was nineteen years old, and she holds Canadian, British, and Israeli citizenship. Cohen Yeshurun identifies as Jewish, but she is in the process of transitioning her denomination affiliation saying: “I’m in a transition at the moment. I grew up Orthodox.” She still has an Orthodox lifestyle, but Cohen Yeshurun became more liberal in her philosophies rather than her practice over the years. I interviewed her because she is on the WOW Board, and she organizes every service at the Kotel. Cohen Yeshurun explained how everything is planned before the service. She organizes every aspect of the services, even staging important moments to ensure photographs taken by the media capture these important moments. “Everything’s planned. It’s not spontaneous” (Cohen Yeshurun). Cohen Yeshurun has been arrested multiple times for wearing tallit.

4. Alice Shalvi

            I interviewed Alice Shalvi on January 13, 2014 via Skype. She is the only person I interviewed who does not participate with WOW. She has lived in Germany, England, and Israel, and she spent most of her life as an Israeli educator. I chose to interview Shalvi because she is the founder of the Israel Women’s Network and a pioneer in the women’s movement of Israel. In our interview, she said that her motto always was: “Nothing in life should be closed to you simply because you are a woman.” Shalvi gave me an alternative view of the Kotel. She said: “The Kotel, if I may say so, is not perceived as something sacred. Many people feel the way I do that it is a historical site. It’s become a kind of nationalist symbol” (Shalvi). She also does not perceive gender to be an issue at the Kotel as much as religious pluralism. She said, “I feel that anybody, any Jew or even if you’re a non-Jew, should be able to pray at the Kotel if they’re so moved to do. But, it’s not worth fighting over. If you’re going to fight, the fight should not be just about women.” Although Shalvi has a background of Modern Orthodoxy, she currently prays in an egalitarian minyan with a female rabbi.

5. Shira Pruce

            I interviewed Shira Pruce on January 16, 2014 via Skype. She is WOW’s Director of Public Relations. She is from the United States but has lived in Israel for about ten years. Pruce is Jewish, but she prefers to not affiliate with a denomination. I interviewed Pruce because she is a full-time staff member of WOW, and she attends every Rosh Chodesh service. However, she does not wear religious garments when she prays simply because it is not her custom. Pruce offered a different perspective on prayer. As to why she prays at the Kotel, Pruce said:

            I pray at the Kotel because I feel that as a citizen of Israel, it’s my responsibility to make             sure that Israel’s public spaces in general, but specifically holy public sites, are accessible   and welcoming to everyone. For me, I feel that my prayer is an expression of activism, an             act of social change, and even a subversive act.


Furthermore, she explained that she also prays in a synagogue, and she always has. The Kotel, for her, is not an easy place to pray.

            b. Interview Questions: The interviews were semi-structured. Questions were fixed beforehand, but the answers often turned to discussion and conversation. The interviewees were not given the questions before the interviews. Consent was taken verbally. Five out of five of the interviewees consented to the interview itself and to the audio recording of the interviews. None of the interviewees requested pseudonyms, and none wished to remain anonymous. See Appendix 1. b. and 1. c. for a script of the basic interview process.

            c. Analyzing the Interviews: I organized the interviews by taking detailed notes and audio recording the interviews as they occurred. To analyze the interviews, I played back each conversation. The recordings were for the purpose of accuracy, and I strived to be as precise as possible when quoting the interviewees. I looked for patterns between my theories and the women’s answers. Quotes from these five interviewees are throughout the paper.

C. Electronic Media

            a. Social Media: The Internet, and specifically social media, has become instrumental to organizing social movements (Storck 2011). I referenced WOW’s Facebook page ( for live newsfeed updates, pictures, and links to news articles.

            b. Websites: I navigated WOW’s website (, predominately utilizing their “In the News” section, “Legal History”, and live streaming options within my research.   




            Participants of WOW and various media outlets reported that jeering, cursing, and even physical violence occurred against women praying at the Kotel. Some Halakhic observers perceive WOW’s methodology for prayer as nontraditional, which has become an issue of contention against WOW. The ultra religious argue that these women are not praying according to Halakhah, or Jewish law. These women have experienced confrontation and harassment by both ultra-Orthodox men and women at the Kotel on the basis of their practices during Rosh Chodesh. Why are their practices an issue of concern with members of the Orthodox community specifically? First, one must understand Judaism and the functions of this religion in Israel as it exists today. In this section, I will set a basic foundation for Judaism, Jewish law, Orthodoxy, and women’s roles within these concepts.

            Judaism is comprised of three components: Torah, Israel, and God (Plaskow 1991). Torah includes Jewish texts, laws, and commandments. Israel represents the Jewish people. God is the monotheistic spiritual figure of the Jewish people. The Torah governs the Jewish people and holds high importance in the religion: “The Torah is one of several covenants that God made with Israel and the world. The contractual nature of the relationship between God and Israel is a fundamental biblical and rabbinic concept” (Satlow 2006 151). “To follow God’s commandments is to live according to halakhah. Literally meaning ‘path’ or ‘way’, halakhah came to denote the entirety of Jewish law” (Satlow 2006 156). Devout Jews follow these laws in accordance with their ancestral covenant with God.

            Jewish Orthodoxy dominates the State of Israel’s Jewish religious affairs. This denomination of Judaism controls marriage, public prayer, and holy sites. Orthodoxy, like Judaism itself, has a spectrum of religiosity, like Modern Orthodox, Hasidic, or Haredi. The general definition of Orthodoxy is “the religion of those Jews who adhere most strictly to traditional beliefs and practices. In Orthodox Judaism, both the Written Law (Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament) and the Oral Law (codified in the Mishna and interpreted in the Talmud) are immutably fixed and remain the sole norm of religious observance” (Orthodox Judaism 2013). In Judaism, women are not encouraged to participate in following certain laws as men are because “for the Rabbis, Jewish-born, unblemished men are fully obligated [to follow mitzvot]; all others (e.g., children, women, slaves, those with disabilities) have lesser but specified obligations” (Satlow 2006 157). When interpreting the Torah, Rabbis assumed women to have social roles that interfered with their halakhic obligations, and thus, women had few opportunities for participation in public rituals. “Most Rabbis believed that women were constrained by both constitution and social roles. Imposing an obligation on one who was incapable of doing [rituals] was unfair” (Satlow 2006 157). Because women were exempted from fulfilling these religious obligations, they did not participate in the same religious customs as men. This tradition is continued by many to this day, where women generally do not lead prayer services, pray aloud, or participate in any other traditionally “male” customs.

            It is also important to note the problem of sexual distraction between men and women as perceived by some rabbis when presenting information on Jewish prayer services. The problem of seduction has been expressed in Judaism since Genesis, when Eve “tempted” Adam with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. “Sexual distraction is considered a grave problem in the Halakhah” (Biale 1995 26). As an example, “A woman reading the Torah may be fulfilling a duty equal to that of men, but she is also causing sexual distraction during the most important service of the week. Traditional practice makes provisions so that women should not be seen or heard by men during services” (Biale 1995 26). As has been argued throughout the Halakhic Jewish community, a woman’s voice during prayer is distracting and/or sexually enticing. Therefore, women are separated by a mechitzah and encouraged not to sing aloud in the company of men. This has been a key argument against WOW at the Kotel, but as Frances Raday adds, this concept is inaccurate and “evidence that the silencing of women is linked with the politics of patriarchal domination as well as with the psychology of the fear of women’s sensuality” (Chesler 2003 123). This gender segregation during prayers is meant to help the prayer services at the Kotel, but many view such restrictions as just so—restrictions. As Feinstein expressed during her interview, “I very much resent the sort of second class citizenship that women have in Orthodox Judaism, and it’s a goal of mine to change that” (Feinstein).


            Conflict is not a new concept in Israel. Multiple wars and uprisings have burdened the contemporary state since its creation in 1948. In addition to the many external enemies of Israel, it has also faced debates from its own citizens over issues like territorial disputes and Palestinian-Israeli pluralism. However, Israel also faces concerns over religious freedoms inside its own borders. This section provides a review of the Israeli government’s role in religious affairs and reviews literature on the current status of gender equality in Israel. Furthermore, the feminist movement in Israel is presented to show the reader the current status of Israel’s women’s rights as they exist today.

            The contemporary State of Israel has a parliamentary democratic system. The Knesset functions as the legislative decision-making body of the Israeli government (Knesset 2003). The Knesset defines the powers and functions of each branch of government on their website: “Within the framework of the Israeli democratic system, in which there is a separation of powers amongst the legislature, the executive branch, and the judiciary, the Knesset [has] exclusive authority to enact laws. The Knesset may pass laws on any subject and in any matter, as long as a proposed law does not contradict an existing basic law, and the legislative process is carried out as required by the law” (Knesset 2003). Although the Knesset claims these powers, they do not have full jurisdiction over religious governance. The Knesset does not create the rules at Israeli holy sites as “several Jewish religious services are supplied in Israel through four main official entities – the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, regional Religious Councils, Regional Rabbis, and Rabbinical Courts” (Medina 2006 318). The national network of religious courts is known as Batei Din and is headed only by approved Orthodox Av Beit Din judges. Religion plays a major role in Israeli politics, but only 20 to 25 percent of the population (Jews and non-Jews) would identify themselves as religiously observant (Golan 2011 64).

            In areas of law not directly related to religious values and norms, a strong concept of gender equality has been developed both in legislation and in the courts of Israel. This gender equality combines “social accommodation for maternity and parenthood, with equal opportunity guarantees for women’s participation in the labor force and the military, with affirmative action in public sphere economic activities and with protection against sexual violence as an inherent part of women’s right to equality and human dignity” (Raday 2005 78). The constitutional definition of Israel as a Jewish state is inherently problematic for gender equality because Judaism and gender equality rights clash with religious norms. Outside the religious sector, gender equality is the stated aim in most areas of Israeli life.  

            How do non-Orthodox Jewish denominations fare in Israel? Cohen attempts to answer this question in the following statement:

            On the Israeli religious landscape, religious Zionists and Ultra-Orthodox are nearly the      only forms of religious Judaism. Other Jewish denominations are highly marginal and not     recognized by the state as legitimate. Similarly, the Israeli public does not always consider non-Orthodox denominations, such as the Conservative or Reform movement,       as dati (religious) by Israeli standard of Jewish religiosity. (Israel-Cohen 2012 17)


This is problematic for Jews who do not identify as Orthodox or do not wish to follow the customs and traditions of this denomination. WOW has been working with Reform and Conservative groups to negotiate an egalitarian space at the Kotel, so that non-Orthodox Jews or unconventional Orthodox Jews may pray as they please in this space. This would also grant Jews of all genders the ability to pray together in the same space at the Kotel.

            The Israeli legal system “is marked by a deep dichotomy between traditionalist preservation of patriarchy in matters related to religion, in the one hand, and progressive and even radical legislative and judicial policy on matters of gender equality not related to religious norms, on the other” (Feldman 2011 110). The Israeli legal system combines English common law, British mandate regulations, and Jewish, Christian, Druze, and Muslim personal status or family law. “The Israeli state law and Supreme Court have final jurisdiction since the Basic Law on the judicature regulates the creation of the Beit Din” (Feldman 2011 121). Israel has no constitution. Rather, “it has a functional equivalent in its Declaration of Establishment (1948), the basic laws of Knesset (Parliament), the Israeli Citizenship Law, and other foundational documents and court rulings that have constitutional significance” (Feldman 2011 122). The Israeli government is complex with a combination of legal systems and no constitution, but the power the government grants to religious authorities creates even further complexities. 

            How have women fared under Israeli religious authorities? Feldman states:

Religious authorities have persistently attempted to thwart the statutory imposition of women’s rights, but not always successfully. In 1992 the Knesset partially circumvented religious opposition by instituting a constitutional bill of rights—the Basic Law. The text of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom states in article 1: ‘the purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty in order to anchor in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state’. The Basic Law protects six basic rights:

  1. Right to life, bodily integrity, and human dignity.
  2. The right to property.
  3. The right to protection of life, body, and dignity.
  4. The right to individual liberty.
  5. The right to leave and enter Israel.
  6. The right to privacy. (Feldman 2011 122)

These basic laws are not upheld in institutions like marriage or public prayer. Israeli feminism has pushed for equal gender rights in Israel. Israeli feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal, social, and economic status of women both within Israeli secular society and religious society (Feldman 2011 120). Furthermore, as stated by Feldman:

Two principles seem to mark a consensus among women:

  1. The Israeli state should uphold and support gender equality using courts, legislation, and enforcement, though the Orthodox and secular women’s organizations may differ on whether to privilege liberal and democratic norms over halakhah when norms conflict.
  2. Reform cannot be imposed on religious authorities but must come from within religious circles. The burden is on feminists to demonstrate that Judaism is compatible with gender equality. Both principles may require policy compromises… (Feldman 2011 121)


These arguments exist in WOW’s movement as well as to have Israel support gender equality and to create reform from within religious Jewish circles. WOW is also attempting to operate between religious and governmental systems to enact change at the Kotel.


            Many consider the Kotel the most important holy site for the Jewish people because it is the last remnant of the Jewish people’s “Temple” (The Kotel 2013).  Chesler explains: “The Temple Mount has been considered holy since antiquity. As it is deemed to be the place where the binding of Isaac took place, and also where Muhammed ascended to heaven” (Chesler 2003 xxii). Jews from around the world gather here to pray, and people write notes to God and place them between the ancient stones of the Kotel. This section explains the history, religious control, and layout of the Kotel.

            The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE. Despite the destruction that took place, all four Temple Mount support walls remain standing. Throughout the generations since the Temple’s destruction, the Western Wall was the remnant closest to the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies that was accessible to Jews. Therefore, it became a place of prayer and yearning for Jews around the world. The Old City of Jerusalem, and the Kotel within it, was not in Jewish hands from the War of Independence in 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967 (The Kotel 2013). Years of hostilities followed between Jewish and Muslim authorities while they decided who could pray and where they could pray in the Temple area. As it stands today, Jewish religious authorities govern the Kotel space and its surrounding plaza area. 

            The current Chief Rabbinate for the Kotel has complete power over the Kotel (Sales 2012). This man is currently Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who is a political appointee, named to his post in 2000 by then-Minister of Religious Affairs Yossi Beilin. “His authority stems from a 1981 law that gives the Kotel’s chief rabbi power to ‘give instructions and ensure the enforcement of restrictions’ ” (Sales 2012). The law also establishes that any prayer at the Kotel must be according to “local custom’” (Sales 2012). “As the chief rabbi of the Kotel and chair of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the government funded non-profit that governs the wall, Rabinowitz has sole authority to accommodate liberal Jewish practices” (Sales 2012). Because of the control of this site being solely the rabbi’s control, the site is strictly Orthodox and must follow Orthodox customs and laws. The Kotel is managed by this rabbi and functions as follows:

            ‘Organizational’ ushers, working in teams of 10, patrol the plaza around the clock,            stacking chairs, pushing mops across a shiny floor of Jerusalem stone and returning used    prayer books to surprisingly orderly shelves. Enforcing the Kotel’s religious restrictions   falls to ‘informational’ ushers who sit on the men’s side near a box of yarmulkes for           visitors who arrive without one. (Sales 2012).


Rules for modest dress and actions are displayed before entering the Kotel.

            Despite certain prohibitions, women are allowed to pray at the Kotel, and the Wall area is always open and accessible to women. WOW is only at the Kotel for a short amount of time each month. As Skupsky explained, the WOW Rosh Chodesh services usually begin around 7 a.m. and end by 8:30 a.m. To understand the protests and the inequalities, as they currently exist, it is important to explain the layout of the Kotel. The women’s section is about a third the size of the men’s, separated by a mechitzah about five feet high (Chesler 2003 xxvi). There is a plaza in the foreground, and the Dome of the Rock sits above the Kotel to the left and al-Aqsa mosque to the right. The Temple Mount area is under Muslim control, and Jews are not permitted in this area (Chesler 2003 xxvi). The issue of religious freedoms for WOW as discussed in this paper is an internal Jewish one. Jewish women may pray as individuals at the Kotel, and they are permitted to read from siddurim (prayer books). However, “The Orthodox religious establishment (which is primarily ultra-Orthodox) was able to pass a law that prohibited women from the following acts while at the Wall: reading from the Torah scroll, wearing a tallit (prayer shawl traditionally worn by men during prayer), and praying aloud in a group” (Israel-Cohen 2012 62). WOW’s proposition is in collaboration with Jewish denominations that are not strictly Halakhic. They seek to have an inclusive prayer space at the Kotel. Therefore, negotiations have been taking place to create a space for all forms of Jewish prayer. This proposition is currently ongoing, but as will be discussed in this paper, marks signs of future success for religious freedoms at Israel’s holy sites.

            Before explaining the specific legal issues associated with WOW, it is vital to note that the Kotel is not an official synagogue. The Kotel is used as a synagogue because of its respected holiness, but this space is not officially designated as a synagogue. Shalvi presented an alternative view to the controversy of prayers at the Kotel within our interview:

It became so clearly a synagogue, with this separation of men and women. The women having to stand on chairs in order to see what’s going on when they go to a family bar mitzvah. I’ve disliked the place. It does not inspire reverence in me, and I only once attended the Rosh Chodesh prayer there, where we had to move away from the Torah reading. It seemed to me so undignified, the whole thing. And, I don’t know, I personally don’t think that cause is worth all the effort. I think what is important is that every single Jew… should be able to go to the Wall, visit the Wall, pray there if so moved to do, and whether they’re men or women, and that’s it. It isn’t a holy site. It simply isn’t a synagogue. (Shalvi)


With this insight, should the Kotel even be a religious space? It is the remains of the outer walls of a temple, but it has no official ties to the functions of a synagogue. This is an interesting view, which calls to question the overall validity of religious governance of this space.




            The First International Conference of Jewish Feminists was held in Jerusalem at the end of 1988, which was about 15 years after the sprouting of Jewish Feminism in New York (Shakdiel 2002 127). These were the first women to pray at the Kotel collectively, and further, the foundation of WOW’s existence. Although Shalvi did not participate in the first gathering of women at the Kotel (because of leadership positions she held), she was there at the conference when the women came back from their service. As she explained, “In such a terrible state, with indignation, anger, trembling, trembling with what they’d been through, and describing the scene in the most horrendous of terms. They’d been physically attacked” (Shalvi). Over the last twenty-five years, participants of WOW have been physically attacked and verbally taunted by the ultra-religious community at the Kotel. These attacks, though, did not hinder the women from their fight as Jewish feminists for religious equality in this space.

            “The term ‘Jewish feminism’ marked a new development within what is known as ‘the second wave’ of feminism — no longer contained within the struggle for equality with Jewish men, they now committed themselves to changing both Judaism and Jewish society in light of the feminist vision” (Shakdiel 2002 127). Some of the conference participants were Modern Orthodox activists from North America, feminists who had organized women’s tefilla (prayer) groups in their communities to “change the place of women in public prayer from a passive audience to active participation, albeit within the limits of Orthodox halakhic policies — that is, the accepted interdiction in those circles to hold mixed-sex prayers” (Shakdiel 2002 127). These women were no longer willing to act as additions to men’s prayer, behind a partition. These new Jewish feminists “hold separate prayers for females only, where they can experience active roles such as leading group prayer, organizing the event, reading aloud from the Torah scroll for all present, or being honored with various parts of the ritual (Aliyah — stepping up to empower the reader to read for them, opening the Holy Arc for taking out the Torah, holding the Torah up following the reading, etc.)” (Shakdiel 2002 127). When these North American women first came to Israel for this conference in 1988, “there was only one such prayer group in Israel, in the Yedidya congregation in Jerusalem; this prayer group derived its practice from the custom imported to Israel in the 1970s by an immigrant from the US, Pnina Peli” (Shakdiel 2002 128). Some women of the conference wanted to change that.

            Most of the members of WOW mobilize for their own reasons, despite being joined by a particular cause. As Rivka Haute explains her mobilization experience, “We women assembled were like the letters of the Torah, each one individually different, yet creating meaning in our unity, surrounded by the whiteness of the ancient stones” (Grossman 1992 276). Because of this mobilization of a unified meaning, these diverse women are conjoined by a single women’s movement. These activist efforts are most similar to the definition of a women’s movement; “Regardless of their particular goals, [women’s movements] bring women into political activities, empower women to challenge limitations on their roles and lives, and create networks among women that enhance women’s ability to recognize existing gender relations as oppressive and in need of change” (Ferree 2004 577). WOW has challenged the limitations of their roles in Judaism for over two decades.

            I label WOW’s movement at the Kotel as a Jewish feminist one. “Feminism itself is the goal of challenging and changing women’s subordination to men” (Ferree 2004 577). This movement at the Kotel isn’t fundamentally feminist. It falls under the category of Jewish Feminism. This is the idea of implementing women’s participation in the deeply patriarchal religion of Judaism. “Jewish feminism has emerged as a diverse and complex religious and social movement… Just as Jewishness encompasses religious, ethnic, national, and communal elements, so Jewish feminists have addressed a range of inequalities in Jewish life” (Plaskow 1991 xiii). Jewish feminism is viewed as an oxymoron by some, especially for a culture dominated by traditional Orthodoxy. “Feminists often see Judaism as irredeemably patriarchal, attachment to it as incomprehensible and retrogressive. Jews often perceive feminism as an alien philosophy, at odds with Jewish self-understanding” (Plaskow 1991 vii). Central to this movement is the transformation for inclusion within Halakhah. WOW’s dynamic also seeks a similar goal for inclusion of Halakhah in mobilizations for prayer.



            WOW is a diverse group of women. Although all Jewish, they differ in religiosity, nationality, and age; “Women of the Wall (WOW) is an organized group of women from across the denominational spectrum and from around the world who hold prayer groups at the Western Wall on Rosh Chodesh (every beginning of the month according to the Jewish calendar). The group itself is non-denominational but follows what can be considered Orthodox practices in terms of what women can and cannot recite during prayer services” (Israel-Cohen 2012 62). WOW is comprised of women from all over the world, with about half of the board members holding citizenship in the United States (Chesler 2003 xxxiv). “Too often, the group has been mischaracterized as Reform, Conservative, political, or as attempting to challenge the rule of Halakhah (Jewish law) at holy sites in Israel” (Chesler 2003 xix). WOW argues this as a miscategorization. The group of women is diverse between denominations (with members from Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc.), but the prayer services are in keeping of the same Halakhic standards (Chesler 2003 xxvii).

            A group of diaspora women created the International Committee for Women of the Wall (hereafter ICWOW) in 1989. ICWOW exists outside of Israel, although ICWOW also exists as a sister organization to WOW. At first, the ICWOW and WOW were two separate groups with their own attorneys (Chesler 2003 xxixx). The two groups have been split in some decisions, but they work to overcome geographical differences. In this study, I place ICWOW and WOW under the same activist agenda. I mostly reference WOW, unless alluding to a specific case where ICWOW was involved. Ultimately, the two groups are fighting for the same rights, benefiting from the same wins in court, and ICWOW has even actively conducted “solidarity services across North America to coincide with WOW’s prayer services” (Chesler 2003 xxxv). Only the services at the Kotel are of concern for the purposes of this paper. When ICWOW members visit Israel, “they attend WOW’s planning sessions as well as visit privately” (Chesler 2003 xxxv). They are a cohesive group. There are also male allies in the group. As Skupsky explained, her husband and other men tried to assist the women in their activist efforts; “At that time, bringing in a tallit was not allowed. At one time during the high tension and high drama, my girlfriend and I gave my husband our tallitot, and he put our tallitot in his tallit bag, and didn’t bring his tallit there to the Western Wall. And he snuck our tallitot in” (Skupsky).

            WOW considers itself a grassroots organization, with just a few paid members for operational purposes (Chesler 2003 xxxvi). There are boards for WOW and ICWOW, active participants, and inactive participants. When Cohen Yeshurun joined the WOW Board, the group was very small. She said, “When I joined Women of the Wall, they were about twenty women, maybe thirty… It wasn’t yet what it is now. We didn’t have a proper website, and we didn’t have a Facebook page. We didn’t have all this media and followers. We were a very small group” (Cohen Yeshurun). Now, the gatherings fluctuate in size, depending on variables like the time of the year or weather.



            WOW uses religious traditions to alter religious policies in the State of Israel. At the Kotel, women are not given the freedoms to express their Judaism as they see fit. Members of WOW have been arrested and prosecuted for praying at the Kotel. For the purpose of this paper, I focus my research on arrests related to religious garments. Religious garments, as has been mentioned, includes the wearing of items such as tallitot. The specifics of tallitot as an unintended tactic of symbolic activism will be explained in full further in this paper. These garments are not intended to serve as activist tools, but they have become symbolic for gender equality within this movement. As stated previously, the tallit and tefillin worn by participants of WOW are not intended to serve as activist tools. The laws that banned women from wearing such garments when praying at the Kotel made the act of wearing a religious prayer garment by women a form of activism against these set laws. When women wore the garments as outsiders, their movement became distinguishable by such garments. The tallitot and tefillin are symbols of change. Although these women wear prayer garments for their own religious purposes (and not solely for the intention of protests), the garments became reverent and a sign for this struggle for religious freedoms. The purpose of this section is to introduce the roadblocks and legal struggles faced by participants of WOW who demonstrated against such restrictions at the Kotel.

            First, Israel’s complex court system warrants explanation:

Israel has an impressive record of passing positive laws and policies. But this obscures the gap between law and enforcement and the multiple repositories of power in society in addition to positive law and legislative authority. This is due to the overlapping structure of the judicial branch. The judiciary is comprised of the Supreme Court, district courts, and the magistrate courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal. The lower courts serve as courts of first instance with separate family chambers that have jurisdiction over personal status cases that are under shared jurisdiction of religious and civil courts under the Basic Law. (Feldman 2011 123)


WOW fights for religious freedoms within the system of these secular courts rather than the religious courts because their fight is not a personal one. “Religious courts have jurisdiction in matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, maintenance, guardianship, adoption) vested in judicial institutions of the respective religious communities: Jewish Rabbinical Courts, Muslim (shari’a) courts, Druze religious courts, and ecclesiastical courts of the ten recognized Christian communities” (Feldman 2011 123). Women are granted limited freedoms at the Kotel. For WOW:

            Israeli law forbids them from praying as a group at the site of the Wall. At the Wall they   may pray only as individuals. They are also forbidden from bringing their own Torah            scroll into the women’s section of the Wall. Any attempt to pray as a group or to bring in            the Torah scroll is a criminal offense which may end in arrest, in police interrogation and            in prosecution. (Lahay 2011 03)

Women cannot form a group at the Kotel because they cannot be counted within a minyan to pray according to the ultra-religious governing the Kotel (Minyan 2014).

            The legal petitions and cases have been ongoing for decades, with few victories for WOW. “Early on, the angry women decided to seek legal support for their cause. Rabbi Getz, drawing his authority as supervisor of the site from the 1967 Law of Protection of Holy Sites and the 1981 Rulings for Protection of Sites Held Holy by Jews, issued that same first winter a formal prohibition for women to wrap themselves in prayer shawls and read from a Torah scroll while they pray at the Western Wall. Later he even added a prohibition for women to sing aloud during the service at the Wall” (Shakdiel 2002 130). WOW fought against these restrictions of religious freedoms for women at the Kotel for over twenty-five years.

            WOW took its first legal action on March 21, 1989. “The group appealed to the Supreme Court demanding that their right to pray at the site according to their customs be upheld against the authorities (Rabbi Getz, the Ministry of Religions, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, and the police). This appeal resulted in an interim order to the police to defend the praying women, as long as they abided by the instructions of Rabbi Getz” (Shakdiel 2002 130). Despite the many lost legal battles with the state, WOW continues to advocate for women to vocalize collective prayer with the traditional religious components of Judaism, ignoring all enacted prohibitions. WOW’s struggles have drawn immense media attention from such legal battles; “WOW has been involved in an on-going Supreme Court battle for over 20 years in an attempt to gain permission to pray at the Western Wall. The group’s political struggle has drawn significant media attention in the Israeli national media and throughout the Jewish world” (Israel-Cohen 2012 63). As I argue in this paper, this media attention was instrumental in pushing for religious freedoms at the Kotel by influencing Israeli policy changes.




            There are certain strategies in WOW’s movement that fall under scholarly categories for social movement theories. Although these strategies may not be purposeful, I argue the importance of these strategies for success in WOW’s activist efforts. First, I will define what a social movement is. Then, I will describe social movement theories as they pertain to this movement. Different academics give different definitions, but a social movement can be defined as a “collectivity with mutual awareness in sustained interaction with economic and political elites seeking to forward or halt social change. Social movements are usually comprised of groups outside of institutional power that use nonconventional strategies (e.g., street marches, sit-ins, dramatic media events) along with more conventional ones (e.g., petitions, letter-writing campaigns, etc.) to pursue their aims” (Almeida 2008 603). Participants in social movements tend to mobilize outside the state with unconventional tactics.  They usually act as volunteers to offer “their time, skills, and other human resources to maintaining movement survival or achieving goals” (Almeida 2008 603). The social movement form is a relatively new form of mobilization from outside the state: “The modern social movement form arose with the spread of parliamentary political systems and nationally integrated capitalist economies in the nineteenth century” (Almeida 2008 603).

            Social movements do affect public policy. “Social movements challenge current public policies and sometimes they also alter governing alliances and public policy. Because movement activists aspire to change not only specific policies but also broad cultural and institutional structures, they therefore can affect far more than their explicitly articulated targets” (Meyer 2007 546). I focus this section on how social movements specifically affect policy.  William Gamson first studied the impact of social movements on policy. He traced the political and policy outcomes of 53 groups in America before World War II: “Gamson identified two kinds of positive responses—recognition as legitimate actors and policy concessions—that did not necessarily come together. Gamson identified the organizational attributes such as size, resources, and disruptiveness that seemed to come with success but didn’t examine how groups achieved influence” (Meyer 2007 546). Policymakers will propose solutions to quiet activist groups, and these solutions may not even be connected to the activists’ goals.

            Because public policy includes symbolic and substantive components, policymakers can make symbolic concessions to try to avoid granting the aggrieved group’s substantive             demands or giving it new power. Elected officials can offer combinations of rhetorical        concessions or attacks, in conjunction with symbolic policy changes, to respond to or             preempt political challenges. (Meyer 2007 546)


This move also quiets the media, leading the public to believe a sound compromise has been made.

            For the purpose of this paper, it is important to mention the ways in which social movements also affect culture. “Movements must draw from mainstream public discourse and symbols to recruit new activists and advance their claims, yet they must also transform those symbols to create the environment they seek. Symbols, meanings, and practices forged in the cauldron of social protest often outlive the movements that created them” (Meyer 2007 547). In the case of WOW, the Kotel may one day become a symbol for transformation of religious freedoms within Judaism. Although there has not been a significant cultural shift yet, this space has the potential to become a significant cultural symbol for Jewish feminism. This is the first movement of its kind because WOW created the first social movement to transform religious traditions at a holy space in Israel. The following sections provide information on activist tactics utilized by WOW. Each section also encompasses theories, which support the strategies. The tactics are essential in reaching ultimate successes in the social movement for religious freedoms taking place at the Kotel. What has occurred at the Kotel is indicative of greater feminist goals. These successes can be utilized in other Holy Site legislation in Israel.




            The movement for religious freedoms at the Kotel, especially the fight being led by participants of WOW is an intersectional one. This is not only a women’s movement seeking the same rights as men in this spiritual space, but also a religious movement. Orthodox and non-Orthodox activists are seeking to reform the current state of affairs at the Kotel and within Israel as a whole to create a more inclusive space for all denominations of Judaism. This combined effort, especially in WOW, has formed an intersectional movement. Intersectionality is a combination of identities like “gender, race, class, nation, and other potential identities” (Ferree 2004 598). Intersectionality exists within the WOW movement because of the women’s traditional religious beliefs and their identities as females. “By acknowledging the diversity of women’s movements that address feminist goals, whether or not such goals are primary or exclusive, we make central to our analysis the actual intersectionality of social movements” (Ferree 2004 578). Intersectionality “creates specific opportunities and obstacles for collective action” (Ferree 2004 598). WOW has faced both opportunities and obstacles due to their intersectional group dynamic, but this intersectionality also broadened the movement to encompass a diverse group of demonstrators. 

            WOW is participating in a gendered and religious social movement (Lahay 2011). This section classifies WOW’s movement. In social movements involving women, there are three types of activist movements: women in movements, women’s movements, and feminist movements. WOW’s mobilizations are clearly categorized as women in movements, whereas women are simply participating in activism. But, differentiating WOW’s movement as strictly “women’s” or “feminist” is key for further classification. Ferree and Mueller define each term. They write, “We define women’s movements as mobilizations based on appeals to women as a constituency and thus an organizational strategy” (Ferree 2004 577), and, “Feminist mobilizations are informed by feminist theory, beliefs, and practices, and also often encourage women to adopt other social change goals” (Ferree 2004 577). In addition to its movement as “women in movements,” WOW participants are mobilizing in a women’s movement. They are organizing as women for a change pertinent to women’s rights in this religious space. This is the first part of their movement’s categorization in a gendered context.

            In addition to being a women’s movement, WOW can be categorized as a religious one. “Religious movements, like all social movements, are in no way static; historically, as gradual social change in society occurred, movements had the choice to integrate subtle change into their religious framework—while maintaining the image of changeless truth—or build walls to resist it” (Israel-Cohen 2012 03). By WOW’s participants praying as they wish at the Kotel, they are fighting for gender equality and religious transformations. The inclusivity that they seek appears now as a transgression, but the movement is actually a push towards transformation within the Jewish tradition. Jewish feminists at this holy site have attracted attention for such transformations. Religious garments are becoming new symbolic tools for feminists, and the Kotel is a new battleground for holy site law. But, WOW is in no way claiming religious garments. These garments are traced back to the Hebrew Bible. However, WOW is using this tradition to their benefit. These garments distinguish WOW’s participants from other women praying at the Kotel, and this visibility is very important to gaining attention towards WOW’s movement. Judaism, as a religion, is dynamic and constantly transforming itself. There are norms within the religion that are constantly changing with new interpretations of the Torah or new findings in Jewish history. With respect to Jewish feminists at the Kotel, the restrictions of Halakhic traditions at holy sites have the potential to also transform with the changing norms of inclusivity.



            “While women’s movements are not to be confused with specifically feminist claims, it is also clear that there will be a relationship between mobilizing women as women and challenging existing gender relations that still situate women as ‘‘outside’’ politics and the public.” (Ferree 2004 598). This section explains this strategy for working “outside the politics and the public”. Women are more likely to organize outside the formal polity (Ferree 2004 589). WOW is a group of women who have been rejected to work within their government’s secular and religious sectors and cannot enact change in the Israeli system. Because of this, the group organizes outside of the state.

            WOW uses activist tactics of symbolic politics through prayer and dress. “A classic outsider tactic involves the use of symbolic politics to capture public attention, politicize neglected issues, and dramatize the seriousness of the social justice issues at stake” (Hawkesworth 2006 73). Representing one’s activist agenda symbolically through dress is a key feminist social change strategy. An example lies with the Israeli-Palestinian group Women in Black, where the use of black clothing identifies the movement, brings awareness to the movement, and creates solidarity within the movement (Hawkesworth 2006 72). The activist participants partake in camaraderie through their similar dress.

            As previously mentioned, WOW expresses prayer through three practices traditionally completed by men: singing aloud, reading aloud from the Torah and wearing religious garments (tallit, tefillin and kippah). The Chief Rabbinate at the Kotel has prohibited all of these actions. As Shakdiel explains of WOW’s first gatherings:

            They soon became victims of repeated violence from Ultra-Orthodox women and men       alike — they were pushed around, beaten up, chairs were thrown at them. They naturally         demanded that the police protect them, but were stunned to learn that they were the ones             accused of disrupting public order, and not those who attacked them: police officers stood      by and did nothing to stop the violence, and special female law enforcement workers were hired by the Ministry of Religions to drag them away. (Shakdiel 2002 197)

WOW continued to mobilize through symbolic tactics, despite eggs or hateful words being thrown their way. Most women sing aloud in prayer as a group, but not all women wear prayer garments. Each woman makes individual decisions to wear garments according to her own prayer customs. Not all women were raised to wear garments during prayer services and not all denominations encourage their believers to practice this custom. For some women who pray at the Kotel every month, they do not wear prayer garments because they simply don’t in other religious settings.

            These garments are important for my argument because of the role they play within WOW’s movement. I argue that these prayer garments are used as symbols in WOW’s movement. They are distinguishable and vital to gaining attention from the public. As Cohen Yeshurun said during our interview, “The fact that we’re all colorful, everybody is different. We’re pluralistic, so people wear all sorts of different colors. They’re not the same. It’s not that we’re all wearing the same color, it’s that we’re all in color” (Cohen Yeshurun). It’s these very colors in comradery of the many tallitots that grab attention in the media’s photos and video footage. Combining this visibility with other activist tactics, WOW reached success within their movement.



By participating in a movement that confronts gendered traditions, WOW participants are participating in a form of active resistance. “Kandiyoti (1988) describes active resistance as a strategy that openly and explicitly confronts established gender practices perceived as subordinating women and limiting their prospects. When considering its meaning in the context of women and religion, active resistance may be understood as open confrontation with religious authorities over gender roles” (Israel-Cohen 2012 10). WOW exemplifies such strategies through its inclusion of women’s empowerment within Jewish traditions. Although participants do not argue for a change within Halakhah, activists do call for a shift in customs of the religions that are oppressive and unchanging in the modern world. WOW also may not wish to confront religious authorities directly, but its disregard for state policies and continuous arrests suggest otherwise. As Israel-Cohen supports, “Embedded in women’s active resistance are two proclamations related to their status on religious life: 1) that feminism has a place within religious life, and 2) that aspects of the religious tradition can and should be changed to accommodate the opportunities feminism presents to the religion” (Israel-Cohen 2012 10). Additionally and exclusively to Jewish Orthodoxy: “Likewise, Jewish Orthodox women who openly challenge their exclusion from public prayer or advocate for the ordination of women rabbis, are taking controversial stances on issues that serve as significant boundaries between Orthodoxy and the more liberal Jewish denominations” (Israel-Cohen 2012 10). WOW openly challenges women’s exclusion from public prayer at the Kotel.





            WOW’s movement spreads across borders. Their gatherings occur at the Kotel in Jerusalem, but their movement holds influence in the United States and with other Jews in diaspora. WOW’s movement is therefore transnational. Transnational social movements began in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the West. “Oriented toward solving the problems of war, economic and social justice, and human rights, led to the great flowering of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) in this century” (Smith 1997 ix). With the combination of WOW and ICWOW in solidarity between continents, participants influence a broader range of change-makers. As Shalvi explained about the issue of religious pluralism at the Kotel, “It seems to me that still this remains an issue, which as of interest and importance, primarily to women of the diaspora” (Shalvi). Shalvi perceives this issue as prominent with Jews around the world outside of Israel.

            Transnational influence has been very important for WOW’s successes. The United States has significant influence on Israel because the US is a key financial supporter of the State (Sharp 2013). In addition to governmental support, the North American Jewish non-profit sector has major influence over Israeli financial and public civilian support of the State. WOW and ICWOW have many North American participants and supporters, and this allyship is instrumental for influence on insider affairs. As will be noted within this paper, the arrests of high-profile Americans leads to key changes within Israeli policies for religious freedoms.

            WOW participants are also considered nonstate actors, working as outsiders of the Israeli government system. “Nonstate actors have become significant international actors and will increase in importance as the world stage becomes more complex and integrated” (Smith 1997 xiii). By acting outside the secular and religious government, WOW has less influence. However, its transnational status allows WOW to reach across the “Jewish world”, not just in the State of Israel. Since Jews are a people of diaspora, they are spread throughout other continents. As has been mentioned, they create solidarity movements and, further, these transnational movements pressure the Israeli government to create changes in their own borders. 

            Both the transnational solidarity movements and local gatherings at the Kotel are encompassed within the tactic of creating mass demonstrations.

            In addition to mass demonstrations, activists have devised still more dramatic means of     showing numbers, commitment, and endorsing their ideas. Activists engage in vigils,        sometimes fasting, strike, organize boycotts, and establish semi-permanent camps in         support of their cause. Sometimes they dress in costumes, in the hope of attracting the             attention of the mass media; recently, activists against cruelty to animals paraded naked    as a costume. (Meyer 2007 546)


WOW’s demonstrators do not set up camps or create vigils, but they do attempt to attract the attention of mass media by demonstrating in large numbers while wearing religious garments. After some members are arrested, they also write about their experiences and publish publicly to entice more attention to their injustices (Skupsky).

            During WOW’s prayer services, or demonstrations, the women utilize the strategy of framing by the speeches they give, songs they sing, and garments they wear.

            The process of building activism is a function of successfully building on shared cultural   understandings to generate a new vision of change in which political mobilization is            necessary. Scholars have described the rhetorical dimension of this process as ‘framing,’    that is, providing a cognitive structure of interpretation that links personal political          choices with larger social conditions (Gamson 1992; Snow and Benford 1992).       Organizers convey collective action frames through their own organizational materials,             through speeches, stories, and songs, and mediate through reports in the range of mass media. (Ryan 1991; Rohlinger 2002) (Meyer 2007 544)




            “The wearing of the prayer shawl which has tzitzit is commanded in one of our central prayers. Although women are, by Orthodox law, exempt from doing that, we’re not prohibited from doing it. And so, I think that to do what God commands brings one closer to God. So on the subject of performing the Mitzvot, more is better.” (Rene Feinstein). On its website, WOW devotes an article to information on and the justification of prayer garments during its gatherings at the Kotel. Some women wear tallit every day while praying, and WOW proclaims that it should be their legal right to practice this mitzvah at the Kotel. Because of this, “As a community, Women of the Wall has made it a goal to help these women gain the legal right to pray at the Western Wall wearing tallit” (Bergner 2014). As Skupsky explained, “I think it’s important if one chooses to wear a tallit, or a prayer shawl, consistently then to don the tallit when one is praying at the Western Wall” (Skupsky). The following is an outline of the halakhic debates around women and wearing tallitot. Not all women choose to wear prayer garments. As Pruce described, “I don’t wear religious garments because it wasn’t my tradition that I was brought up with” (Pruce). The focus of this section is to provide information on this prayer garment, as it has been a reason for many arrests of WOW participants at the Kotel.

            These are some explanations for and against the practice of wearing tallitot. Ultimately, WOW’s website states, it is permissible for a woman to wear a tallit while praying according to halakhic interpretations. The tradition of wearing tallit stems from the Torah, in Numbers 15:38-9, where it states, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: They shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments…And this shall be tzitzit for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of G-d, and perform them.” The fringes that hang from tallit are called tzitzit, and the strings and knots physically represent the Torah’s 613 commandments. The debate of whether both women and men should wear tzitzit takes place in the Talmud, in Menachot 43a. “The rabbis taught: all are obligated in the laws of tzitzit: priests, Levites, and Israelites, converts, women, and slaves” (Bergner 2014) However, “Rabbi Shimon exempts women because it is a positive commandment limited by time and from all positive commandments limited by time, women are exempt” (Bergner 2014). Although women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments (according to Rabbi Shimon and others), they are not forbidden from following them.

            There exist anonymous rabbis who debate whether women can perform time-bound commandments:

            The Talmud (Eruvin 96a), states that even Michal, the daughter of Saul, wore tefillin.        While tefillin is not the main focus, this passage proves that women can make a blessing         on time-bound positive commandments: ‘Michal the daughter of Saul would lay    tefillin…And it is permissible for them to make a blessing on time-bound positive        commandments even though they are not required to perform those mitzvoth...’”   (Bergner 2014)


There are also the following examples with the contrasting debates on whether women wearing tzitzit can or cannot perform blessings while wearing them, “Rambam (Maimonides), Egypt, Laws of Tzitzit 3:9: ‘Women are exempt from the biblical law of tzitzit. Women who want to wear tzitzit, wrap themselves in it without a blessing…if they want to perform them without a blessing they are not prevented’”, and in contrast:

            Rabbeinu Tam, a French Toasafist and leading halakhic authority in his generation             (1100-1171), states that women can recite the blessings over positive time-bound        commandments such as wearing tzitzit: (Tosafot to Rosh Hashanah 33a): ‘…And they     may recite the blessings over a positive-time-bound commandment, even though they are    exempt from that mitzvah.’” (Bergen)

These are just a few examples of various opinions making it permissible for women to wear tallitot and tzitzit.

            On behalf of WOW, Bergen writes,

            While Women of the Wall understands that women may not be obligated to wear tallitot, they are certainly not forbidden to do so. In 2012 alone, there were over 50 arrests of women at the Kotel for wearing tallit. As a result, the tallit has become a large symbol of   Women of the Wall.” (Bergen)


Women wear tallit for different reasons. As Skupsky supports, “Even though there is a designated Women of the Wall tallit, wearing your own tallitot is in fact an individual choice and an individual identity” (Skupsky). WOW provides their own colorful prayer garments at each gathering for other women to use while praying. As WOW states, “Wearing a tallit is a reminder of what we have been commanded to do as Jews and a reminder of our place, as women, within the Jewish community” (Bergen). WOW is justified in suggesting that this prayer garment is important to their movement. Because of the arrests from tallit mentioned, I believe these prayer garments are vital to the attention, which WOW receives by the media, and further, the Israeli government.



            …We struggle to relive our service, to once again pray together while          wearing our tallits and bringing a Torah Scroll to the women’s section.  For over twenty       years, we have endured violence and spent many years in court fighting for this basic        right as Jewish women, while mobilizing support from the Israeli and international            community and raising funds. (Women of the Wall 2014)


WOW’s goals remain fundamentally the same since the creation of the group in the late 1980s. Besides their protests, WOW has faced legal battles fighting for these goals in Israeli courtrooms. As stated previously, “success” is defined by these goals being met for the group. The following is a shortened legal chronology of WOW to further provide a foundation for instances of arrests or other legal issues stemming from the wearing of prayer garments. The following information is from WOW’s own legal timeline via their website (Women of the Wall 2014).

            In 1989, a group of Jerusalem women continued regular prayer services at the Kotel, but their services were met with violent attacks from ultra-Orthodox opponents. In March of 1989, prayers at the Kotel ended with police using tear gas to contain harassment. Following this event, four women submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, requesting an order to allow women’s prayers and Torah reading to continue at the Kotel. Israel’s Supreme Court heard WOW’s case for the first time in May of that same year. The state was given six months to respond to WOW’s petition, and in the meantime, the Court issued a temporary injunction barring women from praying at the Kotel with a Torah and tallitot. WOW respected this ban but continued to pray aloud at the Kotel, which was still not permitted by the Ultra-Orthodox. On  December 31, the Ministry of Religion and the Ministry of Justice spread a new regulation to “ ‘prohibit any religious ceremony at a holy place that is not in accordance with the custom of the holy site and which offends the sensitivities of the worshipers at the place.’ The penalty for violating this regulation is 6 months in jail and/or a fine. This regulation is still in effect” (Women of the Wall 2014).

            1989 was an important year for WOW, marking the beginning of the fight for religious freedoms by the group at the Kotel. The women had prayed together for the first time in just 1988, but both ultra-religious opponents and Israel’s Supreme Court almost immediately shut them down. Following a year of activity, the government passed rules barring religious ceremonies not “in accordance with custom of the holy site” which would offend the “sensitivities” of another worshipper. This is particularly noteworthy for WOW’s garments, since garments like prayer shawls were deemed as offensive to the sensitivities of worshippers. Because of this, the wearing of tallitot became a crime. These garments became visible crimes as determined by these ministries and wearing such garments was deemed a transgression by the state.

            In 1990, the state filed a response to WOW, although it was not the answer they were searching for. The response was a “150-page collection of extreme halakhic opinions concerning women’s rights to pray out loud as a group, wear tallit, and touch or read from the Torah scroll” (Women of the Wall 2014). ICWOW, then, filed an independent lawsuit with the Israeli Supreme Court. ICWOW stated that the cause was of critical importance for Jewish women everywhere. In 1991, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on ICWOW’s case while solidarity services were planned in Stockholm, Sweden and in cities across North America. These simple actions marked attempts by WOW to work with the state, appealing to the insider political strategies. They attempted to gain success in their movement by appealing to state authorities. Unfortunately, these actions were not recognized. The movement became more transnational, with actions taken by ICWOW in North America and with solidarity movements throughout the world.

            The Supreme Court did not issue a decision against ICWOW and WOW until 1994, but the presiding judge, Justice Shamgar, recommended that the government establish a commission to resolve the matter. ICWOW and WOW requested to appeal the decision just one month later but were denied. In response to Shamgar’s recommendation, a government commission, henceforth referred to as the Mancal (Directors-General) Commission, was appointed to propose a solution to the issue of women’s prayer at the Kotel. No women were appointed to the commission, and ICWOW undertook a campaign to recruit individuals and organizations to lobby the Commission. The Commission failed to meet its first deadline, and the government granted them an extension. ICWOW and WOW were not granted permission to testify before the Commission until 1995, and six Israeli and one American representative from the groups gave testimonies. The Mancal Commission failed to meet its second deadline, and WOW and ICWOW filed suit. They demanded that:

(1) The Commission be ordered to fulfill its mandate immediately; (2) the court issue an injunction against the government, prohibiting any further deadline extensions for the commission; (3) a temporary injunction be issued, allowing women to pray aloud at the Kotel with a Torah scroll and wearing tallitot; and (4) the state provide police protection for WOW. (Women of the Wall 2014)


Judge Dalia Domer rejected the request for an injunction preventing the commission from being granted further extensions. In the meantime, another extension was granted to the Commission, and it failed to meet this deadline as well. Up until this point in WOW’s history, little progress was made for the group. WOW was awarded little media attention, and its strategies to work with the state had not worked in its favor of achieving any of its goals.

            The Mancal Commission issued its report on April 02, 1996. The report examined four alternative sites and proposed that the WOW services move to the southeastern corner of the Old City wall, which is outside the Old City of Jerusalem. In October, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Religion to pay WOW and ICWOW “5000 shekels toward legal costs for their ‘interminable delays’ and for the disrespectful ‘recommendation’ that WOW pray at the southeastern comer of the Old City” (Women of the Wall 2014). Although the state was attempting to work with the activist group, progress was slow and decisions unresolved. The Israeli Supreme Court continued to attempt to work with WOW. On March 4, 1997, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the state to “ ‘show just cause within 90 days why Women Of the Wall’s lawsuit against the government should not succeed’. One day later, a bill sponsored by the SHAS party passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset. The bill would turn the Kotel from a national site into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue” (Women of the Wall 2014). The lawyer who represented the government, Nili Arad, made several proposals for another commission or for WOW to pray at the archeological site of Robinson’s Arch, adjacent to the Kotel. WOW rejected these proposals. Despite its rejection, the Ne’eman Commission was established, meeting for the first time in 1998. The Ne’eman Commission issued its report in September of 1998. The commission concluded, without consulting WOW, that WOW should pray in the Robinson’s Arch area immediately south of the Kotel. After these decisions, WOW moved away from the women’s section of the Kotel to resume prayers at the Robinson’s Arch site away from the plaza. Although a compromise by the state, this move pushed WOW’s demonstrations away from the holy site. This move undermined the goals of the activist movement.

            On February 16, 1999, the State submitted an affidavit by Jerusalem Chief of Police Yair Yitzhaki to argue that WOW was provoking violence. The next day, the Supreme Court held a two-hour hearing on the petition of WOW and ICWOW to pray as a group at the Kotel with Torah and tallit. The Supreme Court judges continued to work with WOW, but in the end, all matters were transferred to the government. On December 03, 2001, proposed bill no. 1924 was voted on in the Knesset, which made an amendment to the Holy Sites Law of 1967. It read:

            1. The prayer area at the Western plaza shall be divided into a men’s section and   women’s section by a divider, and prayers by men and women in a mixed group shall not           be permitted there. 2. No religious ceremony shall be held in the women’s section near      the Western Wall that includes taking out a Torah scroll and reading from it, blowing the     shofar, or wearing tallitot or tefillin. 3. Violators shall be imprisoned for seven years.             (Women of the Wall 2014)


Finally, on June 04, 2003, the Supreme Court issued a ruling to bring WOW’s legal battle to a close. As stated on WOW’s website,

            The majority ruled that, despite the state’s claims to the contrary, the Women Of the Wall           maintained a legal right to pray at the Western Wall.  Nevertheless, such right was not          without boundaries, the Court ruled that prayer at Robinson’s Arch would allow the         Women Of the Wall to pray according to their practice ‘next to the Western Wall.’         (Women of the Wall 2014)


Since the Kotel was under the control of the ultra-Orthodox, Robinson’s Arch became an egalitarian space for Reform and Conservative Jews as well. This became the space for Jewish people who prayed, according to the leadership of the Kotel, in ways deemed out of the confines of Judaic customs.

            Although many had moved to Robinson’s Arch to hold prayer services, WOW continued to also pray at the Kotel. Their activist goals were not met, and they attempted to continue fighting for religious freedoms at this space. On November 18, 2009, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation demanded that the police stop WOW’s prayer services. In response, the police arrested a young Israeli WOW participant, Nofrat Frenkel. They interrogated her and charged her with illegally wearing a tallit at the Kotel. This is the first reported incident on WOW’s legal timeline for someone to be arrested specifically for wearing tallit at the Kotel. On January 05, 2010, Anat Hoffman, WOW’s chairperson, was interrogated, fingerprinted, and warned that she would be charged with a felony offense for wearing a tallit at the Kotel. Hoffman was later arrested in July for carrying a Torah during Rosh Chodesh, and she was detained for not praying according to the traditional customs of the Kotel. She was banned from the Kotel for 30 days. In 2012, multiple WOW participants were detained during different Rosh Chodesh services for wearing tallitot at the Kotel. Two of my interviewees, Skupsky and Cohen Yeshurun, were among these women. This is when the media attention for WOW began to quickly develop.

            In December of 2012, during the Rosh Chodesh prayer service, there were new rules, which further affected religious garments at the Kotel. “According to police, a new decree was issued forbidding women to enter the Western Wall plaza with Jewish holy articles, tallitot, or tefillin. Thus, women were stripped of these articles before entering” (Women of the Wall 2014). The arrest of more women triggered more media attention. Subsequently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognized the need for a resolution to the conflict at the Kotel. He asked the Jewish Agency Chairman, Natan Sharansky, to examine the issue. Just one month later, in January of 2013, “Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) Petitioned the Supreme Court, along with Kolech- Religious Women’s Forum, the Center For Women’s Justice, the Yaacov Herzog Center, Hiddush and the Masorti Movement” (Women of the Wall 2014). Their petition questioned the legality and legitimacy of the authorities presiding over the Kotel. Since such authorities essentially created the rules of custom for all Jews who visited the Kotel, the petition asked the court to examine the “unequal representation of Jewish streams and of women in the bodies and offices which hold authority over the Western Wall site” (Women of the Wall 2014). Additionally, “The court was also requested to examine the double-duty of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who holds two titles: Rabbi in charge of Holy Sites, appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office, and Chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation” (Women of the Wall 2014). This dual role appeared problematic by many WOW activists, since the rabbi was essentially the leadership for both the government and the nonprofit for the Kotel space.

            In February of 2013, hundreds of supporters prayed with WOW at the Kotel. This prayer service was reportedly peaceful, but the police detained ten women for wearing tallitot. The women who were arrested received much more media attention due to their transnational statuses. Those arrested included, “Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of American Comedian Sarah Silverman, and her underage daughter, Hallel. Women of the Wall chair, Anat Hoffman, Director, Lesley Sachs, board member, Bonnie Ras, Reform rabbinical student, Lior Nevo, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin of Canada via Queens, NY, and Rabbi Debra Cantor of Connecticut” (Women of the Wall 2014). Following this uproar, the next Rosh Chodesh services concluded with no arrests for tallitot or tefillin for the first time since 2010. Members of the Israeli secular government who prayed at the Kotel with WOW were given certain privileges during their visits; “Members of Knesset, Tamar Zandberg from the Meretz Party and Stav Shafir from the Labor Party arrived at the security gate to the Western Wall with tallitot. When they were refused entrance with the tallitot, they insisted on entering but were not arrested because they are members of the Knesset” (Women of the Wall 2014). Additional international solidarity rallies were organized. These arrests were important for the combination of symbolic politics and transnational social movement theories working together to influence the media. Those who were arrested, especially famous comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister, were more high profile on a transnational scale. Therefore, WOW’s movement became more high profile within the media.

            On April 11, 2013, an Israeli court finally voted in favor for WOW’s goals. After five women were arrested during Rosh Chodesh services (Lesley Sachs, Bonnie Riva Ras, Sylvie Rozenbaum, Rabbi Valerie Stessin, and Sharona Kramer) Judge Sharon Larry Bavly stated that there was no cause for arresting the women. This was a groundbreaking decision for participants of WOW because the judge declared that WOW was not disturbing the public order with their prayers. The police appealed this decision by the Magistrates Court, and the case was heard in District Court on April 25 of that same year. The result was monumental:

“Judge Moshe Sobel decided against the police appeal, supporting fully the Magistrates Court decision by Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly”, and further,

The Judge declared that the Supreme Court decision of 2003 never intended to serve as an injunction which would apply criminal violations to women. Likewise this decision did not ban Women of the Wall from praying at the Kotel. He added that there is no reasonable suspicion in which the women are violating the Supreme Court decisions. In reference to the Supreme Court recommendation that the women pray in Robinson’s Arch, Sobell declared that this does not prohibit the women from praying at the Western Wall in the women’s section, and certainly it does not imply a criminal violation for this act. Regarding the restriction within the Law of Holy Places in which visitors at the Western Wall are to pray and hold religious celebrations according to the “local custom”, the judge declared that the women are not violating this law. He stated that the legal proceedings of Women of the Wall establish that the “local custom” is to be interpreted with National and pluralistic implications, not necessarily Orthodox Jewish customs. (Women of the Wall 2014)


            Following this decision, hundreds of women gathered in May of 2013 to pray at the Kotel with tallitot and tefillin, with the protection of the police. Hundreds of Haredi men and women protested this during their prayer services. Despite these protests, women gradually gained the right to wear their respective prayer garments at the Kotel. This was the first legal prayer service for WOW. Since this first legal prayer service, WOW has continued to meet every Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel, continued to face protestors during their prayer services, continued attempts to bring a Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Kotel, and they have continued negotiations for a third egalitarian space at the Kotel.



            Haaretz, a major news source, reported that stories on WOW were among the top stories of 2013 in Israel (Zonszein 2013). This is a new phenomenon, as Cohen Yeshurun explained in our interview, to have more Israeli coverage; “First of all, we’re very well known in the English speaking media and the world media. But, most importantly, we’ve become known and more liked in the Israeli media” (Cohen Yeshurun). I found this publishing and others like it in a collection on WOW’s website. Since 2009, WOW has kept online records on their website of every major news publishing involving their group. By examining these sources, I found an immense number of reports on the arrests of WOW participants. Many of the arrests have been due to the wearing of tallitot. In this section, I will only examine a few key media reports from 2013. This year spurred a lot of controversy in the Jewish world because the media published many articles on specific arrests at the Kotel.

            The first major report of women being granted access to pray at the Kotel with their prayer garments surfaced in the media in March of 2013. Because of combined influences of US Comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister being arrested the month before and a surprise visit by Knesset members to pray with WOW, the women were finally able to pray with tallit and tefillin without being arrested. The word had gotten out via mass media, and people took notice. The support, then, by members of the government and by the general public took shape. As was reported,

            Most of them — including Knesset members Stav Shaffir of the Labor Party, and Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg of Meretz — wore prayer shawls. But no one was detained or   arrested, despite the 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling upholding a ban on women             wearing tefillin or tallit prayer shawls at the site, or reading from a Torah scroll. The           Knesset members used their immunity to enter the area with their prayer shawls, while             other women had men bring the shawls in for them. (Sales 2013)


After this move by the Knesset members, the movement was given more legitimacy. Even more Jews around the world took notice. In the United States, there were many solidarity protests.

            Supporters in Washington held their own rally in support of Women of the Wall, supporters in New York and Cleveland held special solidarity services, and San Francisco     supporters were planning a rally for Sunday. At a demonstration late Monday in front of             the Israeli Embassy in Washington, some 125 participants, including children, prayed and             sang with guitars and tambourines. The women raised their arms to hold aloft prayer             shawls in a show of solidarity with their Israeli counterparts.” (Sales 2013)


Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah in Washington said, “The words ‘A woman was arrested for wearing a tallit’ should not be coming out of Israel,” (Sales 2013). The transnational influence became more evident with the uprising in solidarity movements across the US. 

            Although there were solidarity movements before these months of media attention, the arrests for prayer garments weren’t brought to the foreground as they did in 2013. The arrests for wearing tallit were instrumental for having the Israeli government take notice. As was mentioned in the above article, transnational activists held their own protests at the Israeli embassy. People protesting the bans on religious freedoms at the Kotel attempted to directly influence the State of Israel in the only ways they could. When the Knesset members joined WOW’s service, progress began to take shape.

            The next major media reports came about in May of 2013, where multiple women were arrested for wearing prayer garments. When the director, Lesley Sachs, was arrested, there was media attention to follow. This time, these arrests spurred negotiations between the government and the activist group to create changes. As Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, said of the detainment of five women at the Kotel in May was, “proof of the immediate need to find a way for allowing Jews from all streams to pray as they please at the site” (Sharon 2013). Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tasked the Jewish Agency chairman in December of 2012 to find a compromise deal to end the dispute over the holy site. Sharansky reported that the negotiations had shown “a lot of goodwill to defuse tensions and to find a solution which ensures that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site, while respecting the traditions of all” (Sharon 2013). And now, negotiations for these religious freedoms have begun.

            WOW reached success in all areas of their activist goals except for reading from the Torah at the Kotel. The media has not reported on the need for a Torah in the women’s section at the Kotel as it did with the religious garments. For WOW participants, this is still a women’s issue, and they have not completed all of their goals. WOW will continue to protest the ban on the Torah in the women’s section. The organization has attempted multiple times to carry in the Torah, but has been rejected. As Cohen Yeshurun explained, "If it were men 'smuggling' a sefer Torah into some prison or something in some bygone era they would be lauded as Jewish heroes by all and the story told with reverence, by the same people who call Women of the Wall provocateurs” (Women of the Wall Nashot HaKotel 2014). In our interview, she responded, “When it’s women doing it, it’s suddenly provocative and sneaky” (Cohen Yeshurun). Some mass media reports have portrayed this issue as just that—sneaky.

  1. Media Agenda Setting

            Although not an intentional or strategic move by WOW to continually face arrests and detentions due to wearing traditional male Jewish garments at the Kotel, the media’s coverage of such arrests certainly brought the issue to many Jews around the world. This media attention engaged others in the movement. Although WOW’s movement is already transnational, the attention increased transnational participation and, thus, influenced the Israeli government for public policy changes related to this issue. This section explains the theory of the agenda setting effect to explain the relationship between the media and politics.

            In modern societies, it is impossible to talk intelligently about democracy without             considering the role played by print and electronic media in disseminating political        messages to the public. Especially following the creation of electronic media in the             twentieth century, the connections between democracy, political campaigns, public        opinion, and journalistic practices have become the focus of great attention and anxiety     among communication scholars. (McGee 2002 229)


In this section, I examine key strategies that impacted the successes gained in WOW’s movement.

            The Israeli and Jewish media outlets covering the arrests related to garment wearing participated in a theory known as “agenda-setting effect.” “Hundreds of studies of the agenda-setting effect suggest that media exposure encourages individuals to agree more closely on what public issues are most important at any given time. This finding is important because it suggests that media gatekeepers (e.g., editors) may help to determine what issues will find their way onto the public agenda” (McGee 2002 233). As a result, “Once an issue is perceived as important by ordinary citizens, politicians and political candidates are more likely to address this issue in their public statements and/or to work for social and political changes that will resolve the public policy problems with which that issue is linked” (McGee 2002 233). After the frenzy of arrests in 2012 and again in 2013, the policies changed regarding religious garments for women at the Kotel. The media had not covered WOW as much until the mass arrests took place. Because of this coverage, the ban of garments for women became a larger issue with other Jews worldwide. With regards to WOW, these changes took effect because of the uproar from Jews throughout the world.



            “Movements generally organize and mobilize around specific policy demands ranging from ending drunk driving to toppling a government. Social protest can set agendas for government, giving political life to issues otherwise ignored. It can embolden supporters within government, giving them inspiration or cover for political reforms” (Meyer 2007 546). There have been recent successes in WOW’s movement, like the state granting rights for women to pray aloud and wear prayer garments at the Kotel. “The rules are no longer in effect to prevent women from wearing head coverings, in fact, that has never been an issue” (Skupsky Interview). She explained how insults are given to women for wearing kippas, but there is no legal issue with the practice. Skupsky also explained how women are now permitted to wear tallit and tefillin at the Kotel without fear of being arrested. This is a very recent development.

            After years of maneuvering as an outsider, WOW has finally gained advancements to lawfully hold prayer services. Although the group has not gained the right to read from a Torah at the Kotel, years of arrests from women’s prayer garments have recently gained WOW other religious freedoms in this space. Women were granted the right to wear prayer garments after was ruled as such by a Jerusalem District Court, and women have not been arrested on these grounds since. The momentum increased for further successes after the media portrayed certain high profile arrests, and these arrests propagated negotiations between the Israeli government and WOW. On its website, WOW describes the negotiations between the state and other groups to create a third, pluralistic and equal section of the Wall out of respect for the religious freedoms of all Jewish denominations at the Kotel (Toward a Solution 2014). As a set of demands put forth by WOW, to be fulfilled by the Prime Minister of Israel, WOW declared, “Unlike the current men and women’s sections, this section would not be administered by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. The pluralistic section would be governed under the auspices of a group of leaders from all of the Jewish denominations, with fair representation for women” (Toward a Solution 2014). As of March 2014, the negotiations are ongoing.

A.        Negative views of policy changes

            The new section of the Kotel is a vision that has not been fully developed. However, it is important to mention the future of WOW with respect to this new proposed section. Some religious Jews have issues praying in an egalitarian space. It was a goal of WOW to recreate the initial prayer service in the women’s section of the Kotel. This third section would not fulfill this activist goal. Not only are their demands not being met to pray in the women’s section, the Orthodox participants of WOW have felt uncomfortable with this transition. Skupsky made these concerns clear in our interview:

That is not okay because part of the Women of the Wall is Orthodox, and what’s really important is the respect factor. Women of the Wall respect all women, and the Women of the Wall who pray there… some are very Orthodox and do not want to pray with men. There are several reasons why this platform is not okay. Number one, you cannot get close enough to the Wall to touch the Wall. Number two, it’s pluralistic. Men and women can pray together. Number three, it is located right in the middle of the archaeological part, which is not open 24/7. Number four, because it’s located in the archaeological part, which is not open 24/7, should this platform or location somehow be open, that in itself will open that area to absolutely pandemonium and destruction of this very vital location in the Old City. Because, people will go there without respect and ruin the sanctity of the location. So, for four good reasons, it’s ludicrous (Skupsky).


            Cohen Yeshurun does not see this as such an issue. In Jerusalem, Orthodoxy has begun to follow a more accepting, egalitarian route; “What we are seeing happening in Jerusalem is more and more of these egalitarian synagogues opening, or egalitarian prayer groups, and they call themselves Orthodox. I think we’ll see more of that at the new section of the Kotel” (Cohen Yeshurun). Only time will tell how this new space will function and if all participants of WOW will move their prayers to this new section. 




            The tallitot are a recognizable feature of the participants of WOW. As Cohen Yeshurun explained during our interview, the group is distinguishable by the prayer garments. Although differing in style by color and design, these prayer garments have become a symbol for the activists. WOW even offers women their signature tallit garment to participants.

            As described in the legal timeline, many women have been arrested for simply wearing a religious garment. Often charged with “disturbing the peace” or accused of distracting others praying at the Kotel, the women are detained by police for choosing to wear a prayer shawl at this space. I argue that WOW uses a combination of social movement strategies and traditional male garments, like tallitot or tefillin, to break through the Jewish traditions enforced by Israeli authorities. Although this is not a purposeful tactic, this strategy makes the movement distinguishable from others. Following the large numbers of reports on arrests related to garment wearing, the Prime Minister of Israel took notice. This led to actions to establish certain commissions for the purpose of religious freedoms at the Kotel, and further, negotiations for a future inclusive space. If women continued to use these symbolic tactics in other unequal holy sites within Israel, similar compromises could be made for religious freedoms.

            The answer to the question “Does the use of traditional Jewish male garments in women’s movements at the Kotel in Jerusalem affect policy changes related to women’s religious freedoms in Israel?” is mostly. The answer cannot be clearly yes or no because the policy changes are very new. Also, traditional Jewish male garments were causal for arrests made at the Kotel, but the combination of other social movement strategies made WOW experience the success they did. Their goals to “pray together as women” and “to wear their prayer garments as women” have been rewarded by Kotel leadership. However, WOW is still striving to “read collectively and aloud from a Torah scroll as women at the Kotel”. These women are also fighting to express their religiosity and to participate fully within their Judaism, just as Jewish heroes did in past instances of persecution.

            The criticisms of gender inequality at the Kotel mirror complaints regarding constraints on religious freedoms. The laws enforced at this holy site are both a woman’s and a religious issue. The structures of this holy site, of its laws, and of deeply rooted Judaic patriarchal traditions contribute to such inequality today. The social movement of WOW seeks to eradicate this inequality by advocating for religious equality at the Kotel. Through their dress and collective prayer, this organization works to evoke change in policies. What started as an investigation into outsider tactics for mobilization turned into a fascinating project of women on the outside of two legal systems: the secular state and the Jewish Halakhah.

            In light of the District Court decision on April 24, 2013 and after 25 years of monthly prayers at the Western Wall (Kotel), Women of the Wall continue to pray in the women’s section of the holy site with tefillin (phylacteries) and tallit (prayer shawl) on Rosh Hodesh” (Toward a Solution 2014). Although this may change with the establishment of the third section of the Kotel, WOW continues to challenge the limitations of their gender roles by protesting the confines of their religious freedoms. All in all, WOW’s participants have gained a few religious freedoms; “At this time, I am very joyous because I don’t have fear that I will be arrested, and I don’t have fear that my prayers will be interrupted” (Skupsky).

            This intersectional and transnational movement encompasses a fight for religious freedoms with the additional use of symbolic religious representations. WOW uses traditional Jewish dress and their transnational status to challenge the limits of existing, restrictive traditions in the State of Israel. The negotiations and policy changes have the potential to further impact women’s rights within Holy Site legislation elsewhere in Israel. Although WOW’s fight is not over, the success of policy changes is evident at the Kotel today.





a. Additional Information on Interviewees as Sample.

            All interviewees are non-vulnerable populations. They are all educated Jewish-identifying females who hold citizenship in Israel. All women are over the age of 18 years old. Four out of five have participated with the activist group Women of the Wall. One interview was held in person locally, in Colorado, and the remaining four interviews took place via Skype. The interviewees were not part of a random sample. I conducted emails and posted on WOW’s Facebook page for outreach to possible interviewees. I was also connected to each interviewee via email connections through other people. Those who responded to my emails were interviewed. This sample was not relevant to my results. I used the interviewees’ testimonies as support for my findings, rather than primary evidence. Since there were only five interviews conducted, I did not have a large enough sampling size for substantive, concluding evidence. I collected answers as support instead.

b. Verbal Consent.

  • Before you provide consent and before we begin the interview, I would like to review information with you about this study. First, this is a study on the religious representations of female activists within Israel. I am researching how women engage in activism efforts by using aspects of their religious identities.
  • The interview will take approximately 30 minutes. Your participation is entirely voluntary. You are free to answer only the questions that you feel comfortable answering and you are free to end this interview at any time for any reason. You have the option of remaining anonymous if you choose. If this is the case, I will assign you a pseudonym and steps will be taken to ensure your confidentiality. Would you like to remain anonymous, or is it okay to use your name?
    • Are you comfortable with our conversation being recorded? This is only for purposes of accuracy in the research, and it will not be shared for any other purpose. Sometimes participants in social movements participate in activities that might be construed as subversive or even illegal to law enforcement officials. I am required to let you know that my notes may be subject to subpoena. Thus, if such activities did occur, I suggest they are not discussed during the interview.
  • Before we begin, do you have any questions about this study? Are you comfortable to continue with the interview?”

c. Questions.

  • What is your preferred name and country of origin?
  • What is your citizenship?
  • What is your preferred gender and religious affiliation?
  • Are you a participant of WOW?
  • Why do you pray at the Kotel?
  • How do you pray at the Kotel?
  • (If applicable) Why were you arrested?
  • (If applicable) Why do you pray if there’s a chance you may be arrested?
  • What are your opinions of the rules at the Kotel?
  • Do you consider yourself an activist?
  • What is your affiliation with activist efforts in your country?
  • What is the context of your advocacy work/ what is the goal of your activism?
  • Do you think your gender plays a role in your activist efforts? How?
  • Do you think your religion plays a role in your activist efforts? How?
  • Why did you join this cause?
  • How long have you been involved?
  • How did your advocacy group or political affiliation begin?
  • What are/were the goals of the group?
  • Is there a specific religious identifier of yours that deters your activist efforts?
  • Is there a specific religious identifier of yours that enhances your activist efforts?
  • How do you interact with men in your activist efforts?
  • How do you interact with other women in your activist efforts?
  • Where are you or your group at today with its goals for change?
  • What do you believe you’ve accomplished as being a part of this cause?



Haredi: Jewish right-wing fundamentalist (Chesler 2003 xx)

Egalitarian: principle that all people are equal/ equal rights and opportunities. Jews use this term to describe a prayer space where all genders may pray together in the same space. Charmé argues this is a feminist value that’s about ridding of gender separation within Judaism (Charmé 2009 04).

Halakhic/ Halakhah: (according to) Jewish law (Satlow 2006 156)

Israel: originally meant “Jacob”, “the Jewish people”, and “a people chosen by God”. In this context, it’s a geographical name of a country in the Middle East at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea (Israel 2014).

Kippah: a head covering

Kotel: Also called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. “…the Kotel, is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. We know that it is the last remnant of our Temple. We also know that Jews from around the world gather here to pray. People write notes to G-d and place them between the ancient stones of the Wall” (The Kotel 2013).

Mechitzah: the barrier separating men and women (Chesler 2003 xx)

Minyan: “The quorum required for Jewish communal worship that consists of ten male adults in Orthodox Judaism and usually ten adults of either sex in Conservative and Reform Judaism” (Minyan 2014).

Rosh Chodesh: the first day of every Jewish month

Sefer Torah: Torah scroll (Chesler 2003 xix)

Siddurim: prayer books (Chesler 2003 xxvii)

Tallit/ Tallitot: prayer shawls (Chesler 2003 xix)

Tefillin: small black boxes with straps meant to bind and serve as a reminder as stated in Deuteronomy 6:8



Almeida, Paul. "Social Movements." International encyclopedia of the social sciences. Detroit:      Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 603-08. Print.

Bergner, Natalie. "Women and Tallit." Women and Halakha. Women of the Wall, 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2014.

Biale, Rachel. Women and Jewish Law: The Essential Texts, Their History, and Their Relevance   for Today. New York: Schocken, 1995. Print.

Charmé, Stuart Z. "Tradition versus Egalitarianism in the Thinking of Jewish-American     Adolescents." Journal of Jewish Education 75.1 (2009): 4-18. Print.

Chesler, Phyllis, and Rivka Haut. Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's        Holy Site. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2003. Print.

Cohen Yeshurun, Rachel. "Cohen Yeshurun Interview." Online interview. 05 Jan. 2014.

Feinstein, Rene. "Feinstein Interview." Online interview. 29 Dec. 2013.

Feldman, Jan L. Citizenship, Faith, & Feminism: Jewish and Muslim Women Reclaim Their           Rights. Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2011. Print.

Ferree, Myra M., and Carol M. Mueller. "Feminism and the Women's Movement: A Global         Perspective." The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Ed. David A. Snow, Sarah          A. Soule, and Hanspeter Kriesi. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. 576-607. Print.

Golan, Galia. "Women and Political Reform in Israel." Women in the Middle East and North          Africa: Agents of Change. By Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji. Milton Park, Abingdon,          Oxon: Routledge, 2011. 62-75. Print.

Grossman, Susan, and Rivka Haut. Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue: A Survey of History, Halakhah, and Contemporary Realities. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication        Society, 1992. Print.

Hawkesworth, Mary E. "Outsiders, Insiders, and Outsiders Within: Feminist Strategies for          Global Transformation." Globalization and Feminist Activism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. 67-109. Print.

"History." About. Women of the Wall, 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

"Israel." Merriam-Webster. Encyclopaedia Britannica Company, 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

Israel-Cohen, Yael. Between Feminism and Orthodox Judaism: Resistance, Identity, and     Religious Change in Israel. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Print.

Knesset. "English Gateway to the Knesset Website." The Knesset in the Government System.       Israel, 2003. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.

Lahay, Prina, LL.M., J.S.D. The Woes of WOW: The Women of the Wall as a Religious Social     Movement and as Metaphor*. Thesis. Boston University School of Law, 2011. Boston             University School of Theology Religion Fellow Program, Sept. 2011. Web. 02 Dec.           2013.

McGee, Brian R. "Democracy and the Media." Encylopedia of Communication and Information. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. 229-36. Print.

Medina, Barak. "Does the Establishment of Religion Justify Regulating Religious   Activities? -    The Israeli Experience." The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2006. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.

Meyer, David S., and Kelsy Kretschmer. "Social Movements." 21st Century Sociology. Ed.          Clifton D. Bryant, and Dennis L. Peck. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.,            2007. I-540-49. SAGE knowledge. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

"Minyan." Merriam-Webster. Encyclopaedia Britannica Company, 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

"Orthodox Judaism." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic          Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.

Plaskow, Judith. Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. San Francisco:     Harper & Row, 1991. Vii-14. Print.

Pruce, Shira. "Pruce Interview." Online interview. 16 Jan. 2014.

Raday, Frances. "Women's Human Rights: Dichotomy between Religion and Secularism in            Israel." Israel Affairs 11.1 (2005): 78-94. Print.

Reinharz, Shulamit, and Lynn Davidman. Feminist Methods in Social Research. New York:           Oxford UP, 1992. Print.

Sales, Ben. "Who Controls the Status Quo at the Western Wall?" JTA. Jewish Telegraphic           Agency, 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

--. "With the Help of Knesset Members, Women of the Wall Get to Pray." Jewish Telegraphic     Agency. 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Satlow, Michael L. "Rabbinic Concepts." Creating Judaism: History, Tradition, Practice. New     York: Columbia UP, 2006. 140-59. Print.

Shakdiel, Leah. "Women of the Wall: Radical Feminism as an Opportunity for a New Discourse   in Israel." Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture 21.1-2 (2002): 126-63.           University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Routledge, 04 June 2010. Web. 08 Nov.        2013.

Shalvi, Alice. "Shalvi Interview." Online interview. 13 Jan. 2014.

Sharon, Jeremy. "Sharansky: Kotel Arrests Flag Need to Resolve Issue." Breaking News. The      Jerusalem Post, 04 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Sharp, Jeremy M. U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel. Rep. no. 7-5700. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013. RL33222. CRS Report for Congress. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

Skupsky, Lorraine. "Skupsky Interview." Personal interview. 17 Dec. 2013.

Smith, Jackie, Charles Chatfield, and Ron Pagnucco. Transnational Social Movements and            Global Politics: Solidarity beyond the State. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1997. Print.

Storck, Madeline. "The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation: A Case Study of the          January 2011 Egyptian Uprising." University of St Andrews, Scotland, 20 Dec. 2011.     Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

"The Kotel" The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

"Toward a Solution." Our Struggle. Women of the Wall, 2014. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

Women of the Wall Nashot HaKotel Facebook posts/10152101329115673. 01 Jan. 2014. Web.    01 Jan. 2014.

Zonszein, Mairav. "Most-read Stories of 2013 || From Women of the Wall to the Mandela            Funeral Fiasco." Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd, 25 Dec. 2013. Web. 15    Mar. 2014.

(Back to top)