From the Jewish Daily Forward:
Purim is a holiday that is about women’s power, in its different forms. Thinking about the roles of Queen Vashti and her successor Queen Esther in the Purim story highlights some of the dilemmas that women have faced throughout history. I therefore think it’s particularly apt that Ta’anit Esther is International Agunah Day, the day the marks the harrowing struggle of “chained women,” or women denied divorce.
Vashti and Esther were both married to a man, the same man, for whom women were objects to be adorned and used. This was arguably the prevailing culture at the time, but there are also gradations in the exploitation of women.
Women face the insider/outsider dilemma all the time. Should we work hard and sacrifice our integrity (and money) to meet social expectations of female beauty in order to reap the significant social rewards of beauty and sexuality, or should we challenge the system, refuse to turn ourselves into seductresses, and force the world to deal with “real women,” as we are?
In Judaism the insider/outsider dilemma is faced in the most harrowing way by agunot, women who cannot get a Jewish divorce because the system relies on male volition. To stay in the Jewish legal system, agunot give up right to live independently, or to give birth to a Jew, or to be free. They can be free at any moment, but that would entail giving up their status within the Jewish legal system.