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Women in North Africa Continue to Face Travel Restrictions Rooted in Sexism and Discrimination

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

In Algeria, women cannot obtain passports without a guardian's permission. (Photo: Global Justice Now)

Research from Human Rights Watch released Tuesday shows that in many Middle East and North African countries women are still prevented from moving freely around the country they live in, or from travelling abroad. Most still need the permission of a male guardian.

The 119-page report says that although women's rights activists have succeeded in securing increased freedoms for women in many countries in the region, old and new restrictions require women to seek permission from their male guardians to travel. Guardians typically include fathers, brothers, or husbands.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also found that in a number of countries, women cannot travel abroad with their children

Rothna Begum, senior women's rights researcher at HRW, said that authorities in the Middle East and North Africa are imposing varying restrictions on women's right to travel, which authorities often claim are for their own protection.

In reality, however, they deprive women of their rights and "enable men to control and abuse them at will," she added.

The report is based on a comparative analysis of dozens of laws, regulations, and policies, as well as information provided by lawyers, activists, and women in 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The situation is particularly grim in the Middle East as well as the Maghreb, which includes most of the northern part of Africa,

Women in North Africa

The situation is hardest for women in Algeria, where women cannot obtain passports without a guardian's permission.

In Libya, since May 2023, the Internal Security Agency has required Libyan women traveling without a male escort to complete a detailed form about the reasons for their travel and past travel.

In Algeria and Egypt, women also face discrimination when trying to rent apartments if they are not married or without a male guardian's permission.

In Egypt, and Morocco, some women can be prevented from renting a hotel room without a male guardian.

In February 2023, Egyptian authorities added regulations to its 2022 Hotel and Tourism Establishments Law obliging tourist establishments and hotels to allow people to enter or reside in the establishment without discrimination on the basis of gender.

Women report that such rules are used by men to punish women for divorcing them, to harass them, or as a negotiating tool.

HRW's recommendations

HRW has concluded that male guardianship policies "deprive women of their legal status to make decisions about their own lives and can cause deep harm."

Discriminatory restrictions on women's mobility within their country and to travel abroad violate women's rights to freedom of movement, work, study, access health care, and marry.

Discriminatory laws and policies against women making decisions concerning their children also harm both women and children.

The NGO recommends that governments in the Middle East and North Africa remove all remaining discriminatory restrictions, both in law and practice;

This espcially concerns women's freedom to move within their own country, to obtain a passport, and to travel abroad, including with their children.


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