What the future holds for the Libyan women

The liberation of Libya was declared along with declaring subjugation of women by banning the law that treat women like humans. The Libyan Transitional Government announced its first rulings and on top was suspending the law that “bans” polygamy as, according to the Libyan Transitional Government, it contradicts with the Shari’ a law. I, as a Libyan woman, do not think that polygamy was ever banned in Libya. Polygamy was restricted; that the husband had to get his first wife approval of his getting married to a second wife; and the approval of his first and second  wives to bless his marriage to a third..and so forth. The husband has to have a very good reason to justify taking a second wife

Unsurprisingly, there have been, so far, no reaction whatsoever, from the Libyan women against this shocking decree. With regard to this particular issue “polygamy”, women passivity is due to the belief system of the Muslim women in general as well as to the upbringing they go through. No one would oppose a rule that was revealed to “the messenger of Allah; Mohammed” in the Quran. Verse 4 in chapter 4 of the Quran (an-Nisa’) signifies that Allah has granted the Muslim men the right to marry up to 4 women (And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one or what your right hands possess. That is the nearest way for you to avoid injustice.). The other fact behind sanctioning polygamy is that the number of unmarried women (maidens) is ever-increasing in a culture that believes legal marriage to be the only legitimate and sanctioned method of getting a partner. It is also seen that the Muslim individual cannot complete his/her faith if s/he remains unmarried as marriage is believed to be one half of one’s faith

My hypothesis is that, Libyan women, lack political experience; they don’t have a history of striving. In other word, what Libyan women acquired in the political, economic, and social arena under the rule of Colonel Qaddafi did not come as a result of their strive or demands or any pressure from their side, but was granted from by the regime which was eager for further support from a larger segment of the society. The old regime has marginalised the Civil Society Organisation including Women Union and Societies. It claims that there is no need for any association to defend women’s rights since the revolution of Al-Fatah has granted the Libyan women all rights and therefore, any issues that would concern women should be brought to discussion in the Basic Popular Congresses (BPCs), the only legitimate and recognised channel for political participation

Women under the rule of Qaddafi

Under the reign of Colonel Qaddafi women were pushed to fight against humiliation and subjugation and to fight to obtain full rights. The Colonel led a relentless campaign against polygamy and called women to stand firmly against it

Believing that armed forces was monopolised by men, he called women to join the army. This did not receive the expected response as the traditional values of the Libyan society would deny women work in this field which would enable women to be entitled of power over men

The Colonel also called women to form what he called the ‘Revolutionary Nuns’. He declared that revolutionary Nuns “must be totally devoted to the revolution, they must be ready to sacrifice their lives, they must give up any personal private life and marriage, to put an end to reactionary, Zionism, the Crusaders, divisions, and to push forward socialism, progress and Arab Unity”[1]. He urged women to be Nuns to stand against the losers, submissive, reactionaries Arab men and disdain marrying them “What value does traditional marriage have today? in the end you study for a diploma to, give yourself to a nobody, who only sees in you a maid, a cook, and a breeding machine, and who disclaims you for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without regard for your university diploma”[2]

Libyan women, including members of the Revolutionary committees, turned a deaf ear to this call for several reasons; the first is that the words monastic and nuns  are alien words for the Libyan culture, mind and ear; they are unacceptable for their association with Christianity and therefore was perceived as a Haram matter; the second is that the Libyan society believes that marriage is a strong means to preserve honour and maintain good reputation and therefore women should never remain unmarried; the third is that standing against men is the last of the last choices Libyan women would ever make, as standing against men is standing against the whole society and its values; the fourth is that the call for forming the Revolutionary Nuns did not stem from a genuine choice of the Libyan women who strongly deem that putting an end to reactionary, Zionism, the Crusaders, divisions, and to pushing forward socialism, progress and Arab Unity is a sheer men task

In spite of revolutionising the personal status code in women interests and granting women’s equal rights for education and work, encouraging women to set for office, however, was scarce as the males endeavour to block women chance of getting such positions. Unless commanded from above, the males always chose to exclude women or minimise their involvement in politics. Therefore, women political participation remained façade. Women in Libya enjoy no actual choices as men apply more and more control over them by boosting patriarchal social values. This was evident in the case of al-hijab that prevailed across the Muslim world and Libya was not an exclusion. The rising of the Islamists in Libya from the mid 1980s onward provided the new generations with new, albeit backward, Islamic values which apply restrictions and control on women’s life

Interestingly, women did not share the Colonel the issues he fought for; they did not view those issues as their real issues. When the numbers of women joining the Women Military Academy decreased sharply, the Colonel reacted angrily; he decided to shut down the Academy, stating that Libyan women are passive and do not deserve such an achievement. This decision pushed active women from Revolutionary Committees to campaign to recruit women to the Academy and managed to have the Academy opened again.  Also, when the new personal status code was issued, prohibiting men to get married to a second wife without a written and endorsed permission from the first wife, considering the marriage as invalid without obtaining that permission, women did not welcome this amendment. They assembled in Sabha late in the 1990s under the supervision and sponsorship of the Women Affairs Secretariat and called to amend the law to make polygamy easier for men.  This antagonised the Colonel so he threatened women again that a firmer restrictions will be taken against women if they carry on this passivity. And again, women members of the RCs campaigned determinedly to preserve the law that conditions and restricts polygamy. It is not surprising, therefore, to see silence and even approval of Libyan women of lifting ban on polygamy law

Political involvement of women under the old regime was immensely subject to the approval of their family men (i.e. father, brothers, uncles…etc) but it can be said that involvement of women in political participation through attending the meetings of the Basic Popular Congresses or setting for office was widely contingent upon women members of the revolutionary committees movement. The rest, attended the BPCs’ meetings only when they were forced by several means, when not compelled to do so, absence was always the choice that prevailed

Women now have a long way to go in working with civil society organisations and getting involved in politics. The threat the future might hold is the Islamists. If the Islamists manage to rule the country, women’s chance for better future; for developing their status; for political participation is a cat in hell’s chance. Islamists, whether fundamentalists or moderates will hold the society, and women in particular, way… way behind in the name of Islam and Sharia

Women might have been politically inefficacious because of detesting the old regime so they chose not to get involved with. If this is the case, I assume that women will change attitude and would alternate apathy for efficacy; women have already shown some concerns and interests in politics by supporting the uprising and encouraging the males of their family to fight against the old regime machine. They are getting involved more in forming Civil Society Organisations to provide support to the rebels, to help comforting the martyrs families, check on the injured in hospitals, supply information…etc

By reviving the immobilised Women Union and strengthening it, as well as working with various SCOs, women will get the chance to be active and effective in politics and to get a better opportunity to take part in the coming government, as long as the fundamentalists do not abort this prospect

Breica


[1] Maria Graef-Wassik,  Women at Arms: Is Ghadafi a Feminist? Edinburgh: Draft Publishers, 1993, p. 155-58

[2] Ibid, p. 155

 

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