The war in Libya has — unintentionally and unexpectedly — opened up more opportunities for women. According to the Guardian, prior to the war, the city of Misrata was prosperous enough to hire nurses from the Philippines to work in its hospitals. After the conflict started, they all fled and now female medical students, who (unlike their male counterparts) are not usually allowed near a patient for three years, have been hard at work caring for the wounded.
“When I came here I didn’t know anything, not the names of the instruments, nothing,” said Hannin Mohammed, 21. “Now I know so much. I am working with the patients.”
War has brought other benefits. “Before the war we could not go to a café. Big trouble,” explains 21-year-old student Faten Abd. “If you went to a café there would be too many eyes looking at you. They would be talking bad things. Now we can do it, nobody minds.”
Misrata’s two main hospitals were destroyed in the fighting and the nurses carry out their work in a large white tent erected on one side of the car park of Hikma:
Their job is to process casualties who arrive in blood-soaked field dressings, as the all-male doctors decide which patients need immediate surgery and which can wait.
Hikma is cramped and overcrowded; on the far side of the car park is a refrigerated truck that once delivered orange juice and now serves as the morgue.
The nurses admit the work is traumatic, not least when they recognise a friend or relative among the mangled bodies. “Every time I hear an ambulance my heart sinks,” says Fatma Mohammed, 21. “I hope that it is not someone from my family”.
This dedication has rubbed off on male staff. “The attitude to the women has changed,” says Dr Terek Bensmail, a Misratan doctor who works in Coventry but has returned since the fighting began. “Without them there would be a disaster. The way they have done things it’s put them in front in the equality issue.”
But many barriers remain: The nurses must be brought to work each morning by their fathers as most are unmarried and cannot be in a car with anyone but a male relative. The National Transitional Council (NTC) is all-male and the nurses are not optimistic about gaining equal status, regardless of what happens in the rebels’ ongoing battle against forces loyal to Moammar el-Gaddafi. But their new role in caring for the wounded on the frontlines of the war has started hopes of achieving gender equality after the conflict, which slowly proceeds on both the battlefield and the diplomatic front, ends.
Twelve days after the US recognized the National Transitional Council (NTC), which represents the Libyan rebels, as the sole legitimate authority, the British government has done the same. Mahmud al-Naku, a Libyan exile in Britain, has been asked to be the NTC’s ambassador and the UK will transfer $147 million in frozen assets to the NTC, as well as extending a $143 million loan based on currently frozen Libyan funds.
Photo of a woman and child entering Tunisia from Libya in March by كة برق | B.R.Q
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