On Sunday, February 14th, a Hamas-run Islamic court ruled that unmarried women in the Gaza Strip now require permission from a male ‘guardian’ to travel, which is usually an older male relative. A married woman would require approval from her husband. Permission to travel without guardianship would have to be authorized by a court.
This ruling incited protests and outrage. The new restrictions introduced on the 14th brought about harsh criticism from human rights groups because they violate Palestinian laws which prohibit gender-based discrimination.
Women need permission of male guardian to travel, says #Hamas court in #GazaStrip. Men need no permission. #Gaza is getting like Saudi. Pure sexism! https://t.co/M6FY0A1lTp @femeninna @CarolineFourest @CCriadoPerez @ayeshahazarika @MaryamNamazie @beatrixcampbell @RehmanYasmin
— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) February 18, 2021
The mandate would also exacerbate the already restrictive movement across borders, which Egypt and Israel have blockaded since the militant group Hamas gained power in Gaza.
The Hamas-appointed chairman of the council who initially signed the mandate into law, Hassan Jojo, now agrees it needs to be revised.
On Tuesday, February 16th, Jojo’s statement was quoted by Reuters news agency, “We have agreed to redraft this ruling," However, he did not comment on whether the language banning women from traveling would be stricken.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) also condemned the ruling, stating that it disregards "women's dignity and rights" and places them at an "inferior level."
A women's rights expert and Palestinian political analyst, Reham Owda, submits that the ruling may have been an attempt to reduce the recent increase in the number of women searching for work outside of Gaza where employment is only 49%.
Owda said, “The government in Gaza wanted to limit (travel) and restrict the movement of women who are ambitious [to] leave in search of study or jobs, and escape the Israeli blockade.”
The unpopular ruling decreed that there must be restrictions when a child travels whose parents are divorced or separated; "A father is prohibited from traveling with his minor children who are under their mother's custody without the consent of their custodian; and if she agrees, a non-objection travel paper shall be issued from a court..."
Gaza’s local media also reported outrage between politicians and rights groups, who demand that the ruling be withdrawn. Others opposing the decision include international rights groups.
More concerns were raised over the ruling by the European Union Delegation to Palestinians. "This decision is discriminatory and violates the human rights of Palestinian women and is clearly a step in the wrong direction," the delegation posted on Twitter.
Concerned about the decision of the Sharia Judicial Council in Gaza, restricting travels for women without male guardians. This decision is discriminatory and violates the human rights of Palestinian women, and is clearly a step in the wrong direction.
— EU and Palestinians (@EUpalestinians) February 16, 2021
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in Geneva also made a statement about how the ruling breaches Palestinian laws. "The ruling authorities in the Gaza Strip should ensure the application and respect for human rights principles and refrain from issuing discriminatory directives or circulars that violate relevant domestic and international laws," read the statement.