First Published: 2011-02-28


Women join uprising in conservative Libya


Libyan women make strong contribution in anti-regime demos, create artistic ammunition for revolt.


Middle East Online

By Selim Saheb Ettaba – BENGHAZI, Libya

'We were unafraid because we are all united'

In a whirlpool of paint, Najah Kablan is busy making banners for the uprising against Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi's four-decade rule in the traditionally conservative nation.

"I have come to make my contribution," said Kablan, a school inspector of English-language teaching who wears the veil like the majority of women in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country.

Many women chip in to create artistic ammunition for the revolt against the Gathafi regime without, however, neglecting their time-honoured roles in Libyan society.

"We collect the slogans that people come up with, and then we put them up in street posters," said Kablan, who only gave her first name.

"My two sons are at it as well," she said of the work an impromptu art studio the insurgency set up within the courthouse of the eastern coastal city of Benghazi, a stronghold of the two-week-old insurrection.

Outside, a fence separates men from women assembled at the steps of the courthouse building.

"It's traditional to protest separately from men, and I prefer it that way," said Najwa al-Tir, an oil company employee.

"We bring water and food to the protesters," added Tir who donned a pretty veil along with the uniform of the volunteers.

"We will stay here until Gathafi leaves," she said adding, that more than four decades of rule by the strongman was "enough... we want freedom."

Another woman at work in the studio, student Zoha al-Mansuri, said she decided to play a role in the movement to oust Gathafi at the behest of her parents.

She added: "I don't think that the relationship between men and women will change after the fall of the regime."

Naima Yamani said she came to the studio to have her children's faces painted red, black and green -- the colours of independent Libya's first flag raised by the monarchy before Gathafi's 1969 coup.

"We were unafraid because we are all united," said Yamani.

Hanaa el-Gallal, a lawyer who specialises in international law and human rights and wears the Muslim veil, is one of the spokeswomen of the Benghazi uprising.

"Out of the 13 members of the revolution coalition, there are three women, two of which are not veiled," she said.

"With men, we have cried together, shared victory together. But outside, taking into account that we are Muslim, men tend to protect women, as they do children, so they are not jostled."

Anger among women at Gathafi appears to match that of their male comrades.

"Gathafi is a great liar, no one wants him," Fatma al-Madgub said in an outburst in response to remarks by the Libyan leader that his opponents were isolated groups.

"Let him go to Israel. He has nothing to do in this country."

Gallal, a 40-year-old mother of two, gave no credit to Gathafi for the advancement of women's rights under his regime, saying some of changes went so far it triggered a conservative backlash.

"One might consider that we owe him that, but he did so only to create chaos in society, as he has always done," she said.

"Our mothers wore short dresses, but because Gathafi has gone too far opening society, we decided to wear the veil."

Progress on women's rights, according to Gallal, only happened on paper.

"The 'Green' said a lot of very nice things about women," she added in reference to Gathafi's so-called Green Book imposing his ideology inspired by socialism and Islam.

"But this is not what was actually applied."


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