A Hamas-run Islamic court in the Gaza Strip has ruled that women require the permission of a male guardian to travel, further restricting movement in and out of the territory that has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since the militant group seized power.
The rollback in women's rights could spark a backlash in Gaza at a time when the Palestinians plan to hold elections later this year. It could also solidify Hamas' support among its conservative base at a time when it faces criticism over living conditions in the territory it has ruled since 2007.
The decision by the Sharia Judicial Council, issued Sunday, 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. Permission would need to be registered at the court, but the man would not be required to accompany the woman on the trip.
The language of the ruling strongly implied that a married woman would not be able to travel without her husband's approval.
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The edict also said 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 ruling resembles the so-called guardianship laws that long existed in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where women were treated as minors requiring the permission of a husband, father or even a son to apply for a passport and travel abroad. The kingdom loosened those restrictions in 2019.
Hassan al-Jojo, head of the Supreme Judicial Council, told The 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.
He justified the measure by citing past instances in which girls had traveled without the knowledge of their parents and men had left their wives and children without a breadwinner.
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.
- Associated Press