Gaza Strip: Women to travel with male guardian, Hamas court rules

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Palestinian women in the Gaza strip will now require the permission of a male guardian in order to travel, a Hamas-run Islamic court has ruled, further rolling back women’s rights and restricting their movement in and out of the occupied territory.

The ruling issued on Sunday by the sharia judicial council says an unmarried woman may not travel without the permission of her “guardian”, which would usually refer to her father or another older male relative.

Married women meanwhile, would simply not be able to travel without her husband’s approval, as the language of the court’s decision strongly implies.

The ruling harkens to the so-called guardianship laws that long existed in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, although the kingdom loosened those restrictions in 2019.

At the same time, the court also ruled that a man could be prevented from travelling by his father or grandfather if it would cause “grave harm”. But the man would not need to seek prior permission, and the relative would have to file a lawsuit to prevent him from travelling.

The head of the supreme judicial council, Hassan al-Jojo, told Associated Press that the ruling was balanced and consistent with Islamic and civil laws. He dismissed what he called “artificial and unjustified noise” on social media about the edict

The ruling sparked criticism on social media, where many accused Hamas of rolling back women’s rights even as Saudi Arabia has eased its restrictions, including by allowing women to drive.

Zainab al-Ghunaimi, an activist who runs a Gaza-based group focused on women’s rights, said the ruling contravened the Palestinian basic law, which grants equal rights to adults, and meant that authorities were “going backwards in protecting human rights”.

She noted that the same legal body allows a woman to marry at age 16 and get travel documents on her own.

Some organisations, like the Palestinian People’s party, a small left-wing group, already called on Hamas to reverse the decision.

Travels by women in the territory is already restricted since Israel and Egypt have largely sealed Gaza’s borders since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

Israel says the restrictions are needed to isolate the militant group, which has fought three wars with Israel, and prevent it from acquiring arms.

The territory is home to 2 million Palestinians. All Gazans must go through a lengthy permit process to travel abroad and largely rely on the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which only opens sporadically.

The restrictions make it difficult for people to seek medical care or higher education outside the narrow coastal strip.

Hamas has not imposed the kind of harsh interpretation of Islamic law championed by other armed groups, such as Islamic State and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But it has taken limited steps to enforce the territory’s conservative rules, including the imposition of an Islamic dress code on female lawyers and high school students. (Source: The Guardian)

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