In a terrible backwards step, Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council, a body run by Hamas authorities, issued a notice on February 14 allowing male guardians to restrict unmarried women’s travel.
Israeli authorities already restrict the movement of two million Palestinians in Gaza, and Egypt often seals its border to travel from the territory. The council’s notice, issued after Egypt, in an exceptional measure, indefinitely opened its border February 9, could block some permitted to leave Gaza.
The notice, which the authorities amended on February 16 following criticism, now allows a male guardian (a close male relative like a father, brother, or grandfather) to apply to prevent an unmarried woman from traveling if they assess the travel will cause “absolute harm.” She could also be prevented from traveling if the guardian has a pending lawsuit against her that requires a travel ban, for instance if the guardian has applied for a court-ordered ban.
The notice also allows parents and the paternal grandfather to apply for travel bans on their adult children and grandchildren if they can show travel could result in “absolute harm.” But gender-neutral restrictions can also have a discriminatory impact. Due to social norms, families may be more likely to apply for travel bans to restrict women’s movements than men. In addition, “absolute harm” can be interpreted broadly, in ways that reflect discriminatory attitudes against women.
Hassan al-Jojo, head of the Supreme Judicial Council, reportedly tried to justify the measure by citing “past instances in which girls had traveled without the knowledge of their parents…”.
Palestinian human rights organizations have warned the council from issuing circulars that go beyond applying the law to making law, and criticized its recent notice as being in breach of the Palestinian Basic Law guaranteeing the right of citizens to move and travel. International human rights law protects individuals’ right to leave their own country without discrimination. Any restrictions on travel must be individual, for a legitimate reason, and proportionate.
It’s bad enough that Israeli and Egyptian policies have trapped Palestinians in Gaza for far too many years. Now Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council is imposing rules that further restrict the few women who can leave. The Supreme Judicial Council should be supporting women’s autonomy and equality, not setting them back. It should withdraw its notice and ensure men and women can travel without discriminatory restrictions.