Misrata Nurses Seek Gender Equality in a War Zone
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.
All remaining diplomats at the Libyan embassy in London have been asked to leave the country in three days. At a press conference in Tripoli, Khaled Kaim, Gaddafi’s deputy foreign minister, has condemned the decision to recognize the NTC as “irresponsible, illegal and in violation of British and international laws.” 32 nations, including the US and the UK, have now recognized the NTC as Libya’s legitimate authority. Russia is one country that has yet to do so; it has criticized the recognition of the NTC as a “policy of isolation” in which nations are taking sides in a civil war and thereby overstepping the United Nations mandate of protecting civilians.
Reporting from Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that is a rebel stronghold, Al Jazeera‘s Anita McNaught said that the NTC has been running low on cash and that the funds could go towards repairing an oil pipeline to one of the east’s largest oil fields in Soriya. Concerns have been raised about the funds being used for weapons; arms sales of any type are banned under UN sanctions. However, a “source close to the NTC ” has said there is no way to assure the funds may not be used for weapons, which rebel commanders say they are in short supply of. Some soldiers share one weapon between them and vans and pickup trucks are still a key means of transport for rebel soldiers.
Al Jazeera also reports that a rebel offensive in the Nafusa mountains against forces loyal to is the largest yet. Rebel fighters have launched attacks on several towns controlled by the Libyan government with four rebel fights killed and 18 loyalist troops captured. The Guardian notes that “aim is to open up a supply route from Ghezai near the Tunisia border to al-Jawash.” Gaddafi’s forces appear to have launched a counter-offensive and fierce fighting continues.
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Photo of a woman and child entering Tunisia from Libya in March by كة برق | B.R.Q