An Islamic court in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip has ruled that all women must obtain the permission of a male guardian to travel, Al Arabiya reports.
The decision by the Sharia Judicial Council, issued on 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, although it could be her younger brother or son.
It also implies that a married woman would not be able to travel without her husband’s approval.
Permission would need to be registered at the court, but the man would not be required to accompany the woman on her trip.
Critics accuse Hamas, the Islamist group which rules Gaza, of attempting to roll back women’s rights.
Activist Zainab al-Ghunaimi says the ruling violates basic Palestinian laws which guarantee equal rights.
Hassan al-Jojo, the head of Gaza’s supreme judicial council told the Associated Press that the ruling was “balanced” and consistent with Islamic and civil laws. He dismissed criticism of the ruling as “artificial and unjustified noise”.
Hamas has been accused of curtailing women’s rights in the Gaza Strip ever since it took power there in 2007.
The group has mandated that women wear the Islamic headscarf in municipal buildings, courts and high schools.
This latest reversal of women’s rights could spark a backlash in Gaza at a time when the Palestinians plan to hold elections later this year, although Hamas’ core conservative supporters are likely to approve.
The ruling sparked criticism on social media, where many accused Hamas of moving in reverse on women’s rights even as ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has eased its restrictions, including by allowing women to drive.
Traditionally, Saudi 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.
The Palestinian People’s Party, a small left-wing group, called on Hamas to reverse the court’s decision.