Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gaza: Clampdown on Women's Freedom

From Workers Liberty:
In July 2009, Hamas officials initiated what they called a "virtue" campaign, saying they were concerned about increasing "immoral" behaviour in Gaza. The main victims have been women.

In July a judge ordered that female lawyers had to wear the jilbab (a full-length robe) and the hijab (headscarves) in court. Nearly all the 150 women lawyers in Gaza wear the headscarf already, but they challenged the ruling as illegal and won. One, Dina Abu Dagga, said, “It was not the Chief Justice’s right to change the dress code. It was absolutely illegal… We are not against the hijab. I wear it myself. We are against imposing it… Today you impose the hijab, but tomorrow it will be something else.”

As the new school year began, in late August, pressure was placed on parents to dress their daughters more conservatively. Some female students have been refused entry to schools. Girls are being told they must wear a jilbab and a headscarf. Previously, the uniform typically required for female public school students was a long denim skirt and shirt.

Zeinab Ghonaimy of the Center for Women’s Legal Research and Consulting in Gaza reports that a school administrator slapped one female student in front of her schoolmates for not wearing the jilbab: "Physically assaulting students and humiliating them in front of their peers is simply unacceptable, whatever the reason, and especially to force them to wear certain religious clothing in violation of their religious freedom."

In mid-October the police began enforcing a new law which prevents women riding motorcyles. The ban, which was posted on a Hamas website claims they seek to “preserve citizen safety and the stability of Palestinian society’s customs and traditions.”

Hamas have banned mannequins and the display of women’s underwear in shop windows.

Hamas police patrols now demand women dress ‘modestly’ on the beach and that women are accompanied by fathers or brothers. Some of those that have broken these rules have been beaten-up by the police. One resident told Human Rights Watch that, on the night of 9 July, Hamas police beat up three young men for swimming without shirts.

It is increasingly rare to see women in the street who are not wearing headscarves – something now “mainly confined to the wealthier areas of Gaza City” (Guardian, 19 October). Those that do venture out without coving their hair can expect to be taunted.

In mid-October the Independent Commission for Citizens Rights’ office in Gaza City was raised by Hamas police and forced to close. Local human rights activists claim Hamas want to stop independent reporting of the current wave of repression.

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