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Gaza: women's norms shifting, but some still wear what they want

Aug. 10, 2008 12:40 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 10, 2008 12:40 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - Under Islamic rule, women in Gaza City feel free to dress and move about as they like, though some predict the worst is yet to come.

In the streets of Gaza City under Hamas' Islamic rule, there have been no arrests or other interventions with women who choose to wear tight or revealing clothing, who go to hotel restaurants to smoke argileh (flavored tobacco in water pipes) or cigarettes.

Some Gazans, in fact, have guessed that the number of women wearing "western style" clothing has increased. Most say that decisions about dress fall less on the shoulders of the current government, and rather on women themselves and their immediate families.

While such behavior might be out of place in southern districts like Khan Younis or Rafah where there are no public places like restaurants or hotels that a woman would be allowed to visit without a head scarf. In Gaza City, however, many young women "feel secure and safe from critics."

Ma'an's Gaza correspondent spoke to a number of women, representing some of the differing points of view on life under the "Islamic Regime."

One young woman expressed the opinion that wearing what are defined as "western clothes," (currently tight jeans, high heels, short sleeves, moderately low cut tops and makeup) is for her, "a challenge to those who govern the Gaza Strip." She says that wearing Likra jeans and no headscarf is "a big challenge for Hamas police." Women discovered, she added that "Hamas police never interfered in that [what women wear], and they never uttered one word."

Asked why she thought this was the case, the young woman said, "The thing is that Hamas wants to get secularist people to be on its side for the time being, and to avoid looking like the Iranian regime."

She did not feel, however, that the situation would continue. "Before this year comes to an end," she predicted, "Hamas will deploy forces called "Ordering people to do good things and to avoid bad doings" the same as in Iran."

"The Gaza Strip will become a large version of the Islamic University in Gaza," she concluded, referring to the uniformity of dress among women who attend classes at Islamic University.

Gaza City's "middle road" was expressed by a woman who wore full-length trousers with a long shirt covering the waistband of the pants. She commented to Ma'an's correspondent that she wondered how girls manage to put on the Likra jeans. "It seems those girls use shoe horn to insert their bodies inside those trousers," she said.

Analyzing the situation, one woman, who chooses not to wear a headscarf, noted that she "did not feel anything changed after the military coup." When the siege started and local and international NGOs began to close their doors and stopped offering services, she said that she "felt a big change."

"When I walk in the street [now]," she explained, "I hear people say, "We pray that the Islamic Caliphate is restored, so that such women will no longer walk in the streets." She, like other women says she expects Hamas is preparing for a social coup.

Asked what her response would be to enforced social change, she responded, "I will not change the way I dress, but if a decree is issued to change Gaza into an Islamic Emirate, I will wear Hijab." For the time being, she added, Gaza runs as a "secular system."

A fourth woman, who wears trousers as well as a headscarf for her work in a local NGO said, "It is not about the way one dresses, and there are many decent girls who do not wear Hijab." The thing to worry about, she said, is the "many other girls [who] wear Hijab, but are not decent."

Representing the current Islamist beliefs in Gaza, a woman who works with an Islamic Women's website, expressed worries even about women who choose to wear a headscarf along with the long overcoat. "Oh God protect us!" she said, "what makes thing even worse is that some girls wear Hijab and Syrian long gown [the overcoat worn on top of long pants and long sleeves], but the gown is as tight as a belly dancing belt, not to mention the perfumes and makeup!"

A second "Islamist woman" commented that Hamas' refusal to crack down on women's dress is "good for Hamas because people will avoid comparing Hamas to the Taliban." In any case, she added, the number of women who choose not to wear the headscarf in Gaza are few. The "overwhelming majority," she concluded, "wear the Hijab."

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