Driving lesson 'chaperones' stir debate in Gaza


New regulations in the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip that women must be accompanied by chaperones for driving lessons with male instructors have stirred a debate in the Palestinian enclave. Local media were filled on Monday with reports on the latest move in Gaza, controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas, to fall in line with Muslim tenets that women in public be accompanied by a husband or male family member.

A Gaza City police spokesman, in a statement, denied that the decision on chaperones for driving lessons was already the law, although "warnings and instructions" had indeed been issued.

Rami Matar, an instructor for the past five years, hailed the measure as "a positive decision" for both parties.

"It's also reassuring for us, the instructors," he told journalists, explaining that initial lessons often took place in isolated areas to avoid the heavy traffic jams of Gaza City. His school, Al-Awail, has hired a female instructor for women learners if they so request – one of only half a dozen in the entire Israeli-blockaded territory.

"If I had to be taught by a man, I'd prefer to have someone accompany me," said Tamara Abu Afash, who is having her lessons with a female instructor. But Nisrine, 19, said she had no problem taking instructions from a man, Suheil al-Bayed, who runs another driving school, Al-Kifah.

A third of his customers are women, said Bayed, who saw no need for chaperones, especially as instructors have to pass a "morality test" as part of the process to acquire a licence.

Gaza's rulers have tried but failed several times to impose conservative tenets on women, such as banning them from smoking water-pipes in public. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which bans women drivers. Women in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom also need permission from male family members to travel, work or marry.    (AFP)

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