x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Libya's women find revolution gives them chance to play role in society

Women in Libya have come to see the revolution as a route towards their own emancipation, a way to break free from the jobs reserved for them, and a future in which they are not overlooked for a position because a man, albeit a less qualified one, has applied for the same job.

Libyan women prepare food for rebels in the rebel-held city of Misrata.
Libyan women prepare food for rebels in the rebel-held city of Misrata.

ZINTAN // Libyan men have had to reassess how they view the opposite sex since the start of the uprising, and when the dust settles the role of women in the north African country may well have changed for good.

The women of Libya, especially in the Nafusa Mountains, were among the protesters before the fighting started, and since then they have readied their sons and husbands for battle and nursed the wounded.

Meanwhile, they are also fighting for their own emancipation in the new Libya they are helping their men to forge.

Women do not exchange glances on the streets of the conservative city of Zintan, at the foot of the Nafusa range in western Libya. At home, the arrival of an unfamiliar male guest sparks panic, and the ladies of the house scattered like bees. In times of war, they spend most of their time cloistered within four walls.

However, women have felt the winds of change at their backs.

They were chanting "Down with Qaddafi" at the start of the insurrection, alongside the men, calling for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to go.

Afaf Abusaa, 20, a technology student, said: "I've rallied with plenty of young women, even some pregnant ones. The men were so impressed they fired their Kalashnikovs in our honour! That showed them we were equal, and changed their opinion of us," said.

With the men away at the battlefield, the women secure the home front with housework and by providing moral support.

Hana Akra, 24, a medical intern, said: "Men have seen the women nurse the wounded, do volunteer work and cook for the fighters. They've seen mothers tell their sons, 'Go and fight. I will support you.' They hadn't expected that."

Women in Libya have come to see the revolution as a route towards their own emancipation, a way to break free from the jobs reserved for them: nurse, secretary or teacher, trades that leave time to take care of the family.

Not they could see a future in which they are not overlooked for a position because a man, albeit a less qualified one, has applied for the same job.

They hope that in the new Libya, their parents will allow them to select their own husbands, that their fathers and brothers will stop bossing them around and forbidding them from actively choosing their own path through life.

Najiah Hamza, 26, a medical student, said: "Society is very conservative here. Women don't really have the chance to control their own destiny. We are always told: 'Don't say this, don't do that.' I hope the revolution helps us."

Salma Abu Rawi, 20, said her parents refused to let her marry her childhood sweetheart because he wasn't from Zintan, while Ms Abusaa said she would rather not have to wear the veil after she is married.

Ms Akra said she has to fight to become a surgeon, a profession reserved for men. "A woman must break the glass ceiling."

Women's rights groups are popping up in Zintan, where there is talk of changing the laws on divorce and allowing women to participate in politics.

Anya Ali Abud, 23, a pharmacist, said: "The revolution gave us a chance to play a role" in society.