Gaza marathon cancelled over ban on women

2013-03-05 23:28
Palestinian Hamas supporters march in support of the people of the Gaza Strip and against Israel's military operations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (File, AP)

Palestinian Hamas supporters march in support of the people of the Gaza Strip and against Israel's military operations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Gaza City - The United Nations on Tuesday cancelled a planned marathon in Gaza after the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers banned women from participating, in a new attempt by the Islamic militant group to impose its ideology inside the crowded coastal strip.

The dispute threatened to further strain the already delicate relationship between Hamas and the United Nations. Gaza sportswomen met the news with resignation, saying their conservative society had made it difficult to train even before the ban.

Since seizing power in Gaza in 2007, Hamas has issued a number of edicts meant to constrain the freedoms of women. But a number of these initiatives fizzled in the face of public opposition, making the ban on female runners somewhat surprising. Hamas had also recently relaxed some of its earlier orders imposing its conservative interpretation of Islamic law.

Gaza's Cabinet secretary, Abdul-Salam Siam, said women running in public violated Palestinian customs.

"We don't want women and men mixing in the same race," Siam said. "We don't want any woman running uncovered."

Siam said girls could join the event, just not grown women. The race, scheduled for 10 April, would have been the third annual marathon in Gaza. Siam would not say why Hamas did not ban women from the two previous races in 2012 and 2011.

The race was meant to run the entire length of the tiny territory - which is slightly shorter than the official length of a 42km marathon. Some 800 people registered, including 266 Palestinian women and 119 women from abroad, UN spokesperson Sami Mshasha said.

Mshasha said the UN was surprised when Hamas officials informed them that women couldn't participate because organizers have always been careful to ask participants to dress modestly to avoid offending Gaza residents. Most donned full-length running pants and long-sleeved shirts in previous races.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, assists Palestinian refugees and their descendants throughout the region. In Gaza, the agency runs dozens of schools and medical clinics and distributes food to many of the territory's 1.6 million residents.

Against women

But Hamas has frequently squabbled with UNRWA in a rivalry for the hearts and minds of Gaza's people. Hamas has pressed the UN not to organize mixed folkloric dancing for boys and girls; to keep Holocaust education out of its curriculum and it has used harsh rhetoric against previous senior UN officials.

Gaza rights groups urged the UN to defy Hamas and hold the marathon, arguing the militant group has no right to discriminate against women's participation.

The marathon was initially organised to draw attention to Gaza, at the time under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade that was imposed since the militant group Hamas seized power. The blockade has since loosened, although restrictions remain on exports and imports of some raw materials. It also remains difficult for Palestinians to leave Gaza.

Islam has no specific ban on women running, even under the conservative interpretations that most Palestinians follow. But some Gaza residents, including Hamas members, follow even sterner tribal norms that frown on women moving in ways that allow their body shape to be discerned.

The vast majority of Gaza women don Muslim headscarves that cover their hair. Many also wear long, loose robes to conceal their figure. A growing number also cover their faces. The minority of Gaza women involved in sports tend to exercise indoors.

Gaza residents appeared conflicted over the ban.

Enas Mekky said women should be allowed to run as long as they dress modestly. "As long as [women]'s dress doesn't breach public morality, there shouldn't be any problem," she said.

But Gaza runner, Nader Masri, 33, who represented Palestine in the five-kilometer race in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said the territory's conservative culture made the idea of women running in public impossible.

Interpretation of Islam

"Who would allow his daughter or sister to run in the street?" Masri aasked. "When a girl of 16 or 17 is running in the street, that's not acceptable."

Some female athletes said they didn't even bother to sign up because their fathers and husbands didn't want them participating.

"My dad told me that I'm a pretty woman now, and not a girl anymore, so I can't run in the streets. It will be a headache for him because people will gossip," said Noura Shukri, a 15-year-old high school student who ran in the first two races.

Hamas officials have tried before to crack down on behavior deemed contrary to its interpretation of Islam, including banning women from riding on the backs of motorcycles.

But other efforts, including banning women from smoking water pipes, barring men from working in women's salons, and making women cover their hair in courthouses were rescinded after outcries from rights groups.

The militant group has grown more tolerant since the Arab spring, where citizens ousted secular dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, voting in Muslim-orientated governments.

Gaza's Hamas leaders have been under pressure from members abroad to show a moderate face, fearing any new attempted crackdowns in the territory would reflect badly on their ideological partners poised to take power throughout the region.

As such, the cancellation suggested Hamas hard-liners in Gaza were regaining the upper hand in the militant group, Gaza political analyst Mukheimar Abu Sada said.

"The decision highlights the influence of the hard-liners in the Gaza government," Abu Sada said.

Read more on:    unrwa  |  hamas  |  gaza city  |  religion

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
7 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.