ArticlesVolume 16, Number 1 (2007)

Equality with A Vengeance: Female Conscientious Objectors in Pursuit of A Voice and Substantive Gender Equality


This Article will investigate the process by which women’s conscientious objection has been simultaneously “masculinized” and formally equalized. The story of female draft resistors in Israel serves as a case study, providing important insights into the inherent constraints of contemporary legal discourse in promoting substantive gender equality and into the relationship between specific legal arrangements and the invisibility of women in the public sphere. This case study also sheds a more nuanced light on the nature of separate legal arrangements for women, and raises important questions about the appropriate feminist agenda for social and legal change. As this Article will analyze and explain, the formal reference to equality that legitimized the denial of the separate right granted to women has far reaching consequences from a woman’s perspective. When those consequences are compared with the old regime of gender separation, it is unclear whether women were better off before or after the change. In this sense, it seems that Shani Werner underestimated the significance of her conscientious objection with regard to its transformative potential. True, in the framework of the original legal structure, women’s “voice” of resistance was weak and largely ignored; however, it was not meaningless in the public sphere. Rather, considering the central role of the military inĀ Israel in shaping the meaning of citizenship in a male-biased manner, the practice of women’s conscientious objection to the draft appeared to hold the promise of reconstructing the commitments of citizenship in a non- militaristic vein that would have been a significant step toward substantive gender equality. Given the Supreme Court’s recent decision,” however, the possibility that this form of conscientious objection would win recognition has been completely undermined, as has its growing influence in the public sphere.