Photo Credit: Elder of Ziyon
A few months ago I started a series of articles under the rubric Muslim Sexual Harassment to investigate country by country a claim made by a reader that women choose to wear the hijab in Muslim countries and that it is only in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran where dress codes are enforced. For the first article in this series please read Muslim Sexual Harassment in the Jordan.
Showing sexual harassment of women in Gaza will be the easy since it is quickly becoming more Talibanish than even Afghanistan.
The group responsible for enforcing Islamic codes of behavior in the Gaza Strip is the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Here are some of the rules they enforce:
- Swimming without a hijab and laughing in public (1).
- No ads showing the shape of women's bodies or shop windows cannot display lingerie (2).
- Women cannot dance or ride behind men on motor scooters and girls in some public schools must wear headscarves and cloaks (3).
- Women must be taught the necessity of wearing the Hijab to conceal their bodies (4).
The only thing keeping Hamas from forcing a complete Islamization of the Gaza Strip is fear of ruining its relationship with Egypt, a secular-ruled country it depends upon for support. Should an Islamist Egypt emerge after the protests, there will be nothing to hold Hamas back from establishing a completely Shariah-compliant country.
Now all this may seem a digression; how does forcing women to wear veils, to stop dancing or laughing, or from riding on scooters translate into sexual harassment?
Quite simple: treating women like slaves, like cattle, encourages their sexual harassment.
Wikipedia, Hijab by country
Successful informal coercion of women by sectors of society to wear Islamic dress or Hijab has been reported in the Gaza Strip where Mujama' al-Islami, the predecessor of Hamas, reportedly used a mixture of consent and coercion to "'restore' hijab" on urban educated women in Gaza in the late 1970s and 1980s. Similar behavior was displayed by Hamas during the first intifada.
Hamas campaigned for the wearing of the hijab alongside other measures, including insisting women stay at home, segregation from men and the promotion of polygamy. In the course of this campaign women who chose not to wear the hijab were verbally and physically harassed, with the result that the hijab was being worn "just to avoid problems on the streets".
Following the takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Hamas has attempted to implement Islamic law in the Gaza Strip, mainly at schools, institutions and courts by imposing the Islamic dress or Hijab on women.
The sexual harassment in Gaza is rampant:
Univ of Virginia: The Virginia Quarterly Review, Easter in Gaza
I didn’t want to ruin their Easter afternoon with talk of the siege or Hamas or the Islamicization of Gaza, but Tawfiq has opened the door. “We don’t walk much at all,” Samah says. “We go from place to place in cars, and we can’t really walk anywhere without our husbands.” It’s bad enough for unaccompanied young Muslim women to walk in certain quarters of Gaza City—veiled and wearing floor-length, loose-fitting cloaks—let alone for Christian women, who go without hijab. Women like Samah cannot go to a place like al-Fras market. She would come under a shower of insults from the shebab—boys ranging in age from eight to their early twenties.
I first learned of the prevalence of harassment in Arab countries during my time in Cairo, in 2008, when—within days of each other—I read a Gallup poll showing Egypt as the most religious country in the world and an article in the Daily News Egypt explaining how the majority of Cairene women face multiple forms of sexual harassment in their daily lives. Sexual harassment happens everywhere in the world, but for the Gazan public—on the surface so pious and so committed to Islamic values, at least in as much as they support groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad—to tolerate the vicious harassment of women in public seems a cruel irony.
Sadly, I know for a fact that public sexual harassment of women, veiled and unveiled, is commonplace in Gaza: my own girlfriend of three years, who lives here with me, has been harassed multiple times while walking down the street, as have my female colleagues. The more my girlfriend understands Arabic, the harder she finds it to walk outside. The sadder she finds this place.
The funny thing about all this: when countries with Muslim majorities are ruled by secular tyrants, there is less sexual harassment of women.
Jerusalem Post, 5 Jul 2009, 'They accused me of laughing in public'
A Palestinian female journalist complained over the weekend that Hamas policemen attempted to arrest her under the pretext that she came to a Gaza beach dressed immodestly and was seen laughing in public.
"They accused me of laughing loudly while swimming with my friend and failing to wear a hijab," Ghul told a human rights organization in the Gaza Strip. "
Guardian, 8 Jul 2009, Hamas tries to detain woman walking with man
Hamas officials in Gaza have publicly urged shopkeepers to take down foreign advertisements showing the shape of women's bodies and to stash away lingerie often displayed in windows. Officials search electronic shops to check if they are selling pornography on tiny flash drives.
"There's an open, public program to preserve public morals in Gaza," said local rights activist Isam Younis. "In reality that means trying to restrict freedoms."
Bloomberg, 30 Nov 2009, Hamas Bans Women Dancers, Scooter Riders in Gaza Push
The Islamic Hamas movement banned girls last month from riding behind men on motor scooters and forbade women from dancing at the opening of a folk museum. Girls in some public schools must wear headscarves and cloaks.
Signs of Hamas’s creeping Islamization are everywhere in Gaza, the Mediterranean coastal enclave that Hamas has run by itself since 2007.
In August, headmasters of several schools ordered girls to don white head scarves and black cloaks called jilbabs. They sent several girls in jeans home, according to Gaza press reports.
Xinhua, 3 Jan 2010, Hamas encourages Gaza women to follow Islamic code
Since the Islamic Hamas movement has seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, and routed secular President Mahmoud Abbas security forces, Hamas has been trying to implement the Islamic law in the Gaza Strip, mainly at schools, institutions and courts by imposing the Islamic dress or Hijab on women.
The first two neighborhoods that Hamas began with, were al-Tuffah and Sheja'eya in eastern Gaza City, where girls gathered and were taught about the necessity of wearing the Hijab to conceal their bodies.