Islam cares for the dignity and honour of women. In order to protect women, Islam insists that women should not travel long distances or stay away from home by themselves unless they have taken adequate safeguards for their own protection.
So, if a Muslim woman has a genuine reason to travel and there is no mahram who can accompany her, then she is allowed to travel without a mahram — provided that she has taken all the necessary precautions for her safety and security during the course of her journey.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states the following: Women are free to go out as long as they feel safe to do so. There is nothing in the Islamic sources to restrain the freedom of movement of women as long as they feel safe. The only restriction is that when and where it is unsafe to do so, women should venture out only while being accompanied by a mahram or in safe company of other women. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never restricted women’s movements. He only told them that they should not travel a journey of three days and three nights without a mahram. This was because of the safety issue, for molestation and kidnapping were all too common in the unsafe conditions of Arabia at the time, where the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) began his mission. Making Arabia safe for women was an issue of utmost concern for the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) even in the early days of his mission. This fact is clear from a statement he made in Makkah: “I will continue to struggle with this mission until a woman can travel freely all by herself without any fear of molestation!” We must remember while making the above statement, he and his followers were being persecuted by the Makkans.
Furthermore, we also learn from the authentic Sunnah and the biography of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that women Companions of the Prophet were not confined to their homes; rather, they used to go around doing their business in the city. It is well known that the second caliph, `Umar, appointed a woman called Ash-Shifaa’ as a supervisor of markets in Madinah. How could he do so if women were supposed to be confined to their homes? We also know that even the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were accustomed to travel for Hajj and `Umrah without mahram in the safe company of other women. No one can fault the most honourable Mothers of the Faithful (may Allah be pleased with them all) for ignorance of such vital rules of Islam, including rules of travel for women. Among the wives of the Prophet who travelled were `A’ishah and Umm Salamah, who were considered unsurpassed in their expert knowledge of Hadith and fiqh.
It is therefore unreasonable on the part of any parent or husband to insist that his daughter or wife cannot travel to attend classes or conferences or beneficial gatherings to enhance their education and career. The case you have mentioned is a perfectly justified one.
I pray to Allah to grant us discernment and rectitude in words and actions. Ameen.