Gazan women rue 'backwards' Hamas travel ruling

The ruling requiring women to obtain the permission of a male guardian to travel is being ‘reconsidered’ but sparked backlash locally and internationally

People hold signs during a protest against the decision by the Sharia Judicial Council banning women from movement in and out of the Gaza Strip without the permission of her "guardian," which would usually refer to her father or another older male relative, in front of the council, in Gaza City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Arabic on signs in part reads, "Banning women from travel is a violation of the Basic Law, Women are not minors, Yes for the rule of law." (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Huda Abed Al Rahman has not seen her brother in five years.

She lives in Gaza with her elderly father, who is unwell. After a long wait, she recently made plans to visit her sibling in the UAE, where he lives.

But Ms Al Rahman, 27, is one of many whose freedom will be curtailed under a Hamas edict barring women from leaving the enclave without the permission of a male relative.

The edict, issued by the Hamas-led Sharia Judicial Council, said an unmarried woman may not leave Gaza without the permission of a “guardian”. Such consent would have to be registered in court.

“I cannot ask my father to come to court to give me his approval,” Ms Al Rahman said.

Leaving Gaza is already marred by bureaucracy. Sharia student Ghayda Rafiq, 21, lives with her mother in the enclave, where unemployment is about 50 per cent.

“I haven’t seen my father in seven years. I was waiting to graduate so I can go to Riyadh for work. I don’t know why they make it so difficult to live in Gaza,” she said.

“If I got the chance to leave, I wouldn’t come back.”

The ruling on February 14 also enabled fathers and grandfathers to bar their sons from travelling if they believed their doing so would cause “great harm”.

Hassan Al Jojo, head of the Supreme Judicial Council in Gaza, justified the move after hearing complaints about men who left their parents, fathers who left their families without a breadwinner and women who travelled without their parents’ knowledge.

Rights activist Fatma Ashour said the decision takes Gazan society “back to the old ages”.

Ms Ashour and a handful of other women protested in front of the Sharia Judicial Council building last Tuesday. Later that day, Hamas said it would “revise” the ruling, but did not giver further details.

“Historically, Palestinian women have not been prevented from travelling before. This takes us backwards to the old ages,” she said.

Parliamentary and presidential elections are set to take place across the occupied Palestinian Territories on May 22 and July 31, for the first time in 15 years.

“We are struggling to strengthen the role of women in society and give them more room to participate politically in the coming elections,” Ms Ashour said.

A Palestinian rights group, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, said the law makes women inferior to men in Gazan society and contravenes Palestinian discrimination laws.

"The government is supposed to take care of old people and those who are in need instead of preventing the youth from looking for opportunities outside of Gaza, especially given the bad economic situation there," ICHR researcher Mustafa Ibrahim told The National.

If the revised law does not ensure women’s autonomy to travel, women wishing to study abroad would face an additional layer of bureaucracy.

Soad Ibrahem, 30, has a scholarship to study in Egypt and is preparing to go there with a relative.

“Travelling from Gaza is so difficult and with this edict it becomes more complicated,” she said.

“In our tradition, already women cannot travel without the permission of their parents, but I think this law is being set in place so we can take the government’s permission to travel,” she said.

“Women travelling without their parents’ knowledge isn’t a phenomenon just because it happened in some cases. They cannot make other women pay for this.”