By Iman Elmojahed
Is this the most challenging place on earth to be a woman?
Despite what many international communities may think or believe, women in Libya are not being held captive in their homes only to cook, clean, and serve their men and absolutely have no rights. However akin to other countries in the region, gender-based violence and gender inequality does exists which is rapidly growing particularly after the revolution.
Women since the start of the revolution 2011
Women played a largely unreported role in the uprising. Many people thought that it was a male dominate revolution, but in fact men and women worked side by side. After the of Gaddafi’s regime, men thought that women didn’t have the strength, ability or background to contribute in the political stabilization of the country, forgetting that they also didn’t either have the experience to enter politics; we’ve all been living under a politically stifling dictatorship.
Now we have to fight both Islamist and secular men if we are to have an influence in the so called “free Libya”. As in any instances of the collapse of law and order, women are the principal victims of increasing levels of violence and insecurity. Women in my country are being doubly victimized, first by (violence/insecurity) and then by (society/culture). Major obstacles for a woman’s progress in the country in such an innately oppressive system naturally trickles down into smaller aspects of everyday life. These little indignities can indeed break a woman, and I confess I am a woman extremely close to being broken.
What were those small every day events that pushed me over the edge?
Perhaps it was the countless times where some men assumed that since I was out in public on my own I clearly was asking to be verbally or even sometimes sexually harassed. Or the numerous men who shamelessly threw their phone numbers at me or followed me around, despite my obvious lack of interest. There were times when these harassment became reckless car-chases that almost ended in accidents.
Another instance was when I was flying alone where a young (16) year-old airport security boy harassed me demanding to look into my handbag asking me all sort of questions as to why I was traveling alone, and where were my parents or guardians. Bear in mind that he had already checked my passport and knew I was 9 years older than him. But that didn’t matter to him, he was a man and I was a woman. When I went to the airport authorities they asked me to calm down and not make a big deal of it and claimed that he was just doing his job.
As a woman you can reach the boiling point by struggling with the everyday little things that happen nearly every time I step out of my house and into the streets.
Shopping, driving and walking by a café is frowned upon, it’s not that women are banned from doing so. There is no written law that says they cannot, these are just things that are reserved for men and for women it is considered a “social taboo”.
Therefore, for safety reasons it’s best for a woman to show that she is either married or protected by a male relative when in public.
Seeing the situation of women’s rights in Libya five years after the revolution, makes me afraid that women’s rights will continue to be brushed aside or used as political stakes in the power struggles among the various contenders for power.