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.

Related Care2 Coverage

Libyan Rebels Push Towards Zlitan and Brega

US, UK Recognize Rebels as Libya’s “Legitimate Authority”

Gaddafi Threatens To Attack Europe If NATO Airstrikes Continue

Photo of a woman and child entering Tunisia from Libya in March by كة برق | B.R.Q


KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Noted with interest and compassion.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K6 years ago

Hi Beth M if you studied the writings of ancient Egypt before the time of the Hykos who invented themselves as hebrews and created religions as a means of control. The women had equality in all matters in fact the men looked upon them as very special especially in their role of goddesses and ensuring the children grew up to be worthy men and women in society. today women give this responsibility to strangers called teachers and day care operators. so when someone else is thinking for you in the care of your children then it stands to reason that the problems in our society began when women allowed themselves to stop thinking for themselves and their children and gave up their position as goddesses and turned to fictional gods and media information.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Sure, as long as their is dirty work get the women now. If there is glory or men get the men.

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

Once we women get going, nothing will stop us. The women of the world need to stand together to achieve gender equality.

barbara n.
barbara n6 years ago

I very much agree with Carrolyn B. Also here in Italy womwn had a lt of opportunities during and after last war. But I expect that, as soon as storm is at an end, things, for women, will unfotunatly go back to normal way of life. There's still so much to do about womwn conditions... and not only in Asia or Africa.

Eug F.
Eug F.6 years ago

Women had done relatively well in Libya under Gaddafi but within the framework of Arabic and Islamic values. In 1960, women were granted the right to vote and hold political office. In 1970 Libyan women formed the Womens General Union and in the same year, Libya ghranted equal pay for equal work to women. 1980s saw women conscripted with men into military training.

Two issues here-its really hard to put a positive spin on war and its carnage, but thanks Chew for trying and secondly, people who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones. Worried about women and Islamic values? How about gays in your own country and Christian values? Or the courts striking down the Walmart workers suite for equal pay? The list in endless. FIx your own country before you go running off to fix others.

Carolyn B.
Carolyn R6 years ago

Not so long ago my grandmothers here in the united states were similarly helped by war - WW2 gave them opportunities for work experience and the social respect that seems to go with that in our human nature. Our culture simply could not afford all of it's pet delusions about women at that time - we could not afford to keep pretending that women were weak and incompetent when there was no one else to run the factories. It's a bizarre thought, that war has unintended positive social consequences. Maybe some new geniuses in the young generation will figure out how to maximize these positives.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K6 years ago

Its sad to see that we are unable to see what is holding humanity back on issues such as this one. I believe that we have done it to ourselves by thinking that we are all separate from each other instead of waking up to the fact that we are all one regardless of race sex or creed.

So lets just talk about human rights instead of creating side issues called women's rights gay rights black rights, civil rights and then to add insult to injury we spend an inordinate amount of time and money on animal rights. Once we all come together as one under human rights all the other problems just automatically disappear.

So i challenge Care2 to get the ball rolling by removing all references to segregated rights and only have one banner called human rights as when we all work together then the world will be a better place and this will never be achieved while we segregate under different banners.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance6 years ago

Young women like these medical students who have jumped in to help, learned "by the seat of their pants" under fire, and cared for patients, along with Kymberly Wimberly, the Arkansas highschool graduate denied the right to be the class valedictorian, that truly inspire me and give me hope for the future!

Helen Reddy said it best "I am woman, hear me roar!"

mags g.
6 years ago

Inspirational - often small changes are the catalyst needed