Frances Raday

b. 1944

by Moran Carmon

Throughout her years in England, Africa and finally Israel, human rights advocate and litigator Frances Raday has sought to use law to achieve political justice and equality for every individual, regardless of sex, race or religion.

Photographer: Hezi Hojesta
Institution: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Photo Archives

In Brief

Frances Raday is a prominent academic, human rights advocate, and litigator. In 1968, she moved from England to Israel, where she became a feminist. She realized that, contrary to the myth that Israel has a high level of gender equality, there was a battle to be fought over women’s rights. After serving in various leadership positions, she published Women’s Status in Law and Society in Israel in 1995, the first feminist legal theory book to be published in Israel. From 2000 to 2003 Raday served as an independent expert for the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Committee and had a global impact on the fight for gender equality.

Early life and Education

Frances Raday’s career as a leading human rights advocate, feminist academic, and litigator evolved on no less than three continents: starting in England, passing through Africa, and finally settling in Israel.

Raday was born on January 29, 1944. Her father, Julius Livingstone (b. Glasgow, 1908) was a family doctor. Her mother Pearl (née Levy, b. Manchester, 1918) studied law but never practiced it. Raday was raised with her older sister Morven (Heller, b. 1940) in Manchester. The family was assimilated although it stayed in close contact with the secular Jewish community. In 1977, Raday’s parents moved to join her in Israel, where her father died in January 2000.

In 1961, at the age of seventeen, Raday entered the London School of Economics; after graduating in law in 1964, she was accepted to Gray’s Inn as a barrister at law. It was there, at the traditional graduation dinner, that she first experienced male chauvinism, prompting what she would later recall as her “first feminist notion.” Being forced by her rowdy graduating colleagues, all but two of whom were men, to stand on the dinner table to render her graduation speech, she abandoned her prepared text and said only: “This is indeed a strange profession in which women are required to stand above men at its commencement and beneath them thereafter”—words that would echo later in her work and practice.

Interest in Israel

In 1964 Raday visited Israel, where she worked for three months at A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.Kibbutz Kefar ha-Nasi. From 1964 to 1966 Raday worked as a research assistant in the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, where she found herself in an elite environment: the director of the international law section in which she worked was Lord Denning. Feeling that the glorious job and working conditions were too comfortable for her socialist views, she applied for a lectureship in the newly established University of East Africa at Dar-e-Salaam in Tanzania. Raday spent two years (1966–1968) in Tanzania, establishing for the first time a course in East African Labor Law and researching this field with its special importance and unique characteristics in the phases of colonialism, independence, and post-independence. She also co-founded the university’s Torts courses.

Ironically, it was in this Tanzanian context that Raday developed her interest in Israel. In June 1967, when Israel was on the verge of war, Raday, who was a member of a group of New Left lecturers, witnessed her colleagues mourn the imminent destruction of the young state of Israel. On the day of Israel’s victory, only six days later, the same people, who only days earlier had expressed their concern for the fate of the “only democracy in the Middle East,” switched to condemnation of the Jewish State, saying that as long as Israel survived in the Middle East, the Arabs would never reach their full political, economic, and cultural potential. Again, Raday found herself speaking out against a hostile group. “There is no nation in history that suffered more than the Jewish people from persecution and discrimination,” she said, adding that the Jews, no less than the Arabs, belong to Franz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth.” Of the group, only Walter Rodney, a professor of history, who was later assassinated as leader of the opposition in Guyana, agreed with Raday: “There are no colonizers and colonized between Jews and Arabs, only two peoples deprived by history of a homeland and fighting over one miserable strip of land.” It was as a direct result of this transformative moment that Raday decided to immigrate to Israel. When enquiring at the Israel Embassy how she could teach law in Israel, she was directed to Uri Raday (b. Israel, 1931), who was the Israeli consul in Zanzibar and himself a lawyer. Uri became the administrator of the Lit. "assembly." The 120-member parliament of the State of Israel.Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. They married after her arrival in Israel in 1968.

Israel was not waiting for Raday with open arms. She did not know a letter of Hebrew and had no knowledge of Israeli law or culture. In 1969 she registered as a doctoral student in the Hebrew University Law School. Once again she found herself drawn to the world of labor law and to the beauty and importance she sees in it: balancing powerful and powerless people; combining elements of psychology, economics, and social justice; and determining the quality of life of members of society. On completing her doctorate in 1975, she taught and continued to research labor law at the Hebrew University, and in 1990 came to hold the Lieberman Chair in Labor Law.

A Feminist Legal Career

It was in Israel that Raday became a feminist. In her academic career, she found herself discriminated against on the basis of her sex: the university offered her a smaller doctoral scholarship than it did to male students; when she took five weeks off classes on the birth of her daughter Natalie, she was asked to leave a seminar, unlike male students who had been absent for even longer periods on reserve duty. In her studies for the Israeli Bar, she learned that personal law in Israel is governed by the religious laws of the various communities and thus, in effect, the Knesset imposes a patriarchal legal system on women’s lives. She realized that, contrary to the myth that in Israel there is a high level of equality for men and women, there was in fact a battle to be fought over women’s rights. She started doing exactly that, on all possible fronts, first doing her apprenticeship as a foreign lawyer intern at the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office (1975–1976), and then teaching, writing, and litigating on women’s issues.

As a lecturer and educator at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1974 to 2004, Raday brought to the Law Faculty a new and different perspective and taught the importance of being sympathetic to the weaker “Other.” She also emphasized to her students that the law should be used as a social mechanism for restricting abuse of power and that the method of legal argument is a powerful tool for articulating principles of justice. Liberalism without boundaries, she believes and teaches, creates exploitative relationships. At the Hebrew University she has held the positions of chair of the Lafer Center for Women Studies (1992–1997), chair of the Academic Committee of the Minerva Center for Human Rights (1996–2000), and chief editor of the Israel Law Review (1996–2001).

As an advocate and a litigator, Raday was successively involved as counsel in arguing for many of the key precedents regarding women’s status, as well as on labor and discrimination issues: sexual harassment; women’s right to equal retirement age, promotion, and training opportunities; recognition of separate bargaining units for professional groups; employees’ rights in privatization; the right of women to pray, with prayer shawls and Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)Torah scrolls, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (see Women of the Wall); reduction of social rights in annual budget laws; the right to freedom of association and protection against dismissal for union activists; protection of the collective bargaining function of trade unions; rights of Palestinian employees working in Israel to full National Insurance benefits, etc. Raday was also the founding chair of the Legal Center of the Israel Women’s Network (1986–1992), which lobbied for progressive legislation for women in retirement age, equal employment opportunities, prevention of violence in the family, affirmative action for women in directorates of government companies, division of matrimonial property, and income tax reporting and liability.

As an academic researcher and writer, Raday has explored the way in which the law articulates or should articulate principles of political justice regarding disadvantaged groups in a liberal democracy. The paradigm cases of disadvantage, which have been at the kernel of her academic and professional activities, have been workers, women, and minorities. She has focused on themes of collective and individual justice and on the meaning of autonomy for members of disadvantaged groups in a liberal democracy. In 1995, as a co-author and chief editor, she published Women’s Status in Law and Society in Israel, the first book on feminist legal theory to be published in Israel. Her published research includes topics in labor law, women’s human rights, and international human rights law: the move from principle to pragmatism in Israeli labor law; the changing socio-legal concept of equality; economic analysis of the cost of dismissals; the constitutionalization of labor law; the decline of unions; the insider-outsider politics of labor-only contracting; culture, religion and human rights; international human rights law; regulation of self-determination; and minority rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of Raday’s great achievements is her participation, from 2000 to 2003, as an independent expert to the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) Committee. It was an opportunity for her to see how impressively the world has progressed in its declared understanding of women’s right to equality in all spheres of life. She found a common language among women experts and NGO representatives from different regions, cultures, and religions regarding the need for states to be proactive in promoting equal opportunity and affirmative action for women, accommodation for women’s reproductive role, and proper mechanisms for protecting them against domestic violence and sexual exploitation. The participation on the Committee reinforced Raday’s feeling that much has been achieved and that there has been an international shift of perception regarding women’s full personhood and citizenship. Nevertheless, at the level of implementation, much still needs to be done, not least in Israel, in order to enforce the rights which have been recognized. Furthermore, there are ideological challenges to the human rights ethos, from religious orthodoxy, on the one hand, and neo-liberalism, on the other, and these must be countered.

As a mother of three—Natalie (b. 1970), Gilead (b. 1974), and Leanne (b. 1982)— Raday considers herself fortunate to be a member of “the first generation of women many of whom combined careers and families.” This combination, she believes, “enriched life, allowing the possibility of a loving, constantly interesting family, the enjoyment of professional creativity and friendship with stimulating and active women.” She knows that this combination is not possible for all women (or men) in the current social and economic reality and so the legacy that she would like to bequeath is the realization of a social order in which equality is the norm, work is family-friendly, and responsibility for childcare and home is shared by men and women.

Selected Works by Frances Raday

“The Military, Feminism and Citizenship.” Plilim 9 (2000) (Hebrew) 185–216.

“The Decline of Union Power: Structural Inevitability or Policy Choice?” In Labor Law in a Period of Globalization, edited by Joanne Conaghan, Michael Fischl and Karl Klare, 353–377. Oxford: 2002.

“The Fight Against Silencing.” In Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site, edited by Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut. Woodstock, Vermont: 2002.

“On Equality: Judicial Profiles.” Israel Law Review 35 (2003): 380.

“Culture, Religion and Gender.” International Constitutional Law Journal, vol. 1, no. 3 (2003): 663.

“Self-Determination and Minority Rights.” Fordham International Law Journal 26 (2003): 453.

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How to cite this page

Carmon, Moran. "Frances Raday." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 28, 2024) <>.