Ever since Hamas assumed full political control of Gaza in June 2007, there have been occasional reports that the Islamist movement is finding ways to impose a more rigidly conservative and religiously intolerant way of life in the Palestinian enclave — changes that would impact secular, liberal-minded women more harshly than any other social group.
The BBC spoke to five Palestinian women ranging in age from 21 to 36 to find out how they have personally been affected by living under Hamas’ rule. The consensus was pretty clear: nothing Hamas has done has had a fraction of the effect that Israel has had through imposing a brutal economic siege on the population of 1.5 million.
Mona Ahmad al-Shawa, 36, who runs the women’s unit at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said:
The siege of Gaza, which Israeli tightened when Hamas took control in June 2007, makes women’s lives much more complicated.
There are shortages of water, electricity and cooking gas. It is very difficult to leave Gaza for medical treatment.
And after the war in Gaza last year, things got worse because many women lost their husbands. Women lost lives too, of course.
You can’t imagine how hard it is to be a disabled woman in this society. Or a widow.
Our Sharia law means that a widowed woman will lose custody of her children when a boy reaches nine years old and a girl 11.
Since the war, Hamas has ruled that a widow can keep her children if she doesn’t remarry. This is an improvement.
Women’s priorities in Gaza are focused on practical matters – a home, clean water and electricity. Finer points of human rights are not top of the list.
We have many problems with the Hamas authority, but we are not in a big fight with them about women.
People in Gaza feel they are in a big prison, they feel have no choices in life.
Conditions change according to the political situation.
When the first intifada started in 1987 most women covered up, because people could speak badly of you, or throw stones if you went uncovered in the streets. It is not as bad as that now.