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Women’s group slams Gaza law on gender segregation

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A new Gaza law mandating separate classrooms for boys and girls from age 9 is another worrisome sign that the territory’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers are gradually imposing their fundamentalist practices, the head of a Gaza women’s group warned Tuesday.

Since seizing Gaza in 2007, Hamas has issued a series of rules restricting women or requiring them to cover up in the traditional Islamic dress of long robes and headscarves. There have also been bans on women smoking water pipes in public, riding on the backs of motorcycles, or getting their hair done by male stylists.

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The rules are not unusual in parts of the Arab and Muslim world. If faced with public resistance, Hamas tends to refrain from enforcing the rules. In 2009, after women protested, it scrapped a decree requiring female lawyers to wear headscarves in court.

On Monday, Gaza’s Hamas-run parliament issued the new education law that requires gender segregation from age 9 and also bars male teachers from teaching girls.

The idea of gender segregation in schools is widely accepted in conservative Palestinian society. Even in the West Bank, run by a more liberal government, most public schools separate boys and girls by fourth grade. The separation, not mandated by law, is left to local authorities .

Zeinab al-Ghnaimi, head of Gaza’s only legal aid center for women, said the legislation is just the latest measure in Hamas’s campaign of imposing its Islamic practices on Gaza’s 1.7 million people.

Her group issued a statement protesting the new law.

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