War Opens Opportunities For Women in Libya
The war in Libya has given women opportunities they might never have had, says the New York Times. Fatima Bredan became a hairdresser after she mocked Muammar el-Gaddafi’s Green Book, the book of his musings that Libyans were required to read. After pro-Gaddafi doctors and nurses abandoned Matiga Hospital in Tripoli, Bredan has been tending to wounded rebel fighters, saying that “Now, everybody calls me Doctor.” Nabila Abdelrahman Abu Ras, a lawyer, helped to organized Tripoli’s first lawyers’ demonstration in February; while pregnant, she helped to print leaflets that women tossed from cars.
Also in February, female relatives of prisoners killed in a massacre in Abu Salim prison held a protest in the eastern city of Benghazi. They were joined by prominent female lawyers and, as the crowds grew, Gaddafi’s forces fired on them. Seeing the images on television stirred Hweida Shibadi, a family lawyer, to organize 100 colleagues, including about 20 women, to protest in Tripoli. She also helped NATO find airstrike targets:
..Ms. Shibadi, the lawyer who once thought herself too emotional to be a judge and who was forbidden by her family to study English abroad, was helping determine airstrike targets.
She collected weapons and information on troop locations from friends and family in the security forces and relayed the news to a female friend whose cousin, a fighter, passed it to rebel leaders who, she was told, passed it to NATO.
Twice, a female friend living in a high-rise near the airport spotted soldiers carting in heavy weapons. Twice, Ms. Shibadi reported it, and NATO bombs soon fell. She could not be sure it was because of her, but the possibility was thrilling.
Gaddafi thought himself a champion of women; his Green Book described the “sanctity of breastfeeding and female domesticity.” Gaddafi had created a law in which men had to seek his first wife’s permission before marrying a second wife. But the reality, as women interviewed by the New York Times note, was that women had little say or part in government; that “those Gaddafi] promoted, like his female bodyguards, were seen as cronies, sex objects or both.” In Tripoli, women drive cars and mix with men, but still say that their independence is “fragile.”
Libya’s 45-member Transitional National Council only has one woman on it and the NTC’s headquarters does not even have a restroom for women. But many women, emboldened by the new roles they have been able to take on during the war, are determined to continue working outside the home and making inroads into government.
Earlier today, a senior US official traveled to Tripoli to meet Libya’s new leaders, says the Guardian. US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman is the first member of the Obama administration to visit the capital since it fell to the ex-rebels. Al-Arabiya journalist Zaid Benjamin claims that the leaders of Turkey, France and the UK, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, could all be in Tripoli on Thursday. Gaddafi’s son Saadi has been effectively placed under house arrest in Niger, according to US State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Changes are afoot in Libya: Will women be able to preserve the gains they’ve made?
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