Here's Why Women's Travel Rights Are Being Restricted In North Africa, Middle East
Photo Credit: Photo credit: Muhammad-taha Ibrahim

Photo Credit: Photo credit: Muhammad-taha Ibrahim

Here's Why Women's Travel Rights Are Being Restricted In North Africa, Middle East

Jasmine Osby
Jasmine Osby Jul 19, 2023

Male guardianship rules are restricting women’s travel rights in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries, according to a 119-page report from the Human Rights Watch. The report comes after cries from women remained unanswered as additional restrictions limit women’s travel both within countries and abroad. 

Destinations like Algeria and Libya have the toughest restrictions of women’s travel, according to the report. In Algeria, women cannot obtain a passport without permission from a male guardian. In May, Libya’s Internal Security Agency decided women would no longer travel without a male guardian present. Women traveling independently have to provide forms about their current and past travels. These regulations also are in Iran and Qatar. 

Although many of these foreign governments claim the male guardianship rules are to ensure the safety of its female citizens. Many believe control is the reason women’s travel rights are limited, according to Radio France Internationale. This includes preventing women from leaving men they no longer desire to be married to and fleeing the country.

“Courts may also use women’s “disobedience” to restrict women’s access to divorce and deny them financial rights or custody of their children,” the report read. “This can trap women contemplating filing for divorce from leaving the home.”

womens travel rights
Photo credit: LT Chan

Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW, said these countries control women under the guise of male protection. 

“From leaving the home to leaving the country, authorities in the Middle East and North Africa are imposing varying restrictions on women’s right to freedom of movement,” Begum said. “Women in the region are fighting against restrictions that authorities often claim are for their protection, but in reality, deprive women of their rights and enable men to control and abuse them at will.”

In some places, the restrictions extend beyond just women’s travel. According to HRW, many North African and Middle Eastern countries do not grant natural guardianship to mothers. As a result, 14 countries in those regions do not allow women to secure passports for their children. This ensures women cannot leave their residence countries with their children unknowingly. Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are the only countries women are equal to men when securing passports for dependents. 

Some justify the restrictions as a part of the regions culture. However, the HRW believes male guardianship “deprives women of their legal status to make decisions about their own lives and can cause deep harm.” Although some countries are making strides, most women in North Africa and the Middle East endure injustice in silence.

“Even as women’s rights activists win some freedoms, the authorities seek to take others away, rolling back not just women’s rights, but harming children, families and society,” Begum said. “All authorities in the Middle East and North Africa should eliminate any and all discriminatory restrictions on women’s freedom of movement including all male guardianship rules.”

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