LIBYA: Women are seeking a bigger role in new Libyan state

Friday, December 2, 2011
Northern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

To say they're excited about the downfall of the Gaddafi regime would be an understatement.From the moment Newsbeat meets them they talk about the revolution with big smiles on their faces. Even sitting at this coffee shop isn't something they could have done before.

Noor Toshani, 16, describes the situation before things changed: "We would probably do it, but we would be upstairs in the women and family area.

"We wouldn't just be with a foreigner on our own because the Gaddafi loyalists would be really scared."

Her friend, 16-year-old Jumana Turki, agrees: "Before, if you go out on the streets, they'd be looking at you and they'd just kill you with their eyes.

"They would be staring at you all the time, they wouldn't leave you alone."

Most coffee shops and restaurants have separate areas, one for men and one for women and families. The girls are sitting in the cafe's 'men's area'. They excitedly explain why that's now allowed but the looks they get suggest otherwise.

"In my society, in my social circle, I see myself as very equal. The opinion of the Libyan lady does matter," says Noor.

But she's less convinced of whether the men sitting around her view her as equal.

"I don't know. I don't think so."

Smuggling weapons

The huge changes these girls are expecting for women aren't going to happen overnight, if at all. It's a change in mentality not just a change of leadership. When pushed, Jumana admits she isn't sure about total equality.

"God made them [women] emotional," she says.

"I believe that she shouldn't be the one to make big decisions like going to war or not, because it has emotions with it."

Just down the road, the country's first International Women's Conference is being held. Sara Maziq, from the group Women 4 Libya, says women played a huge role in the uprising.

"They did things like smuggling weapons," she says.

"Friends of mine were actually sitting and negotiating with arms dealers, in terms of getting hold of weapons."

Sara describes a network of women who worked together to organise fighters on the ground, even intelligence gathering for Nato. Many of the women at the conference say they have found a new sense of purpose that they don't want to let go. To do that, they need to get more involved politically. Libya's interim Prime Minister, Abdurrahim al-Keib, has named two women in his new transitional cabinet, something seen as hugely symbolic.

"Apart from the fact that they were so instrumental and vital in terms of the success of this revolution, they do represent more than 50% of the population," says Sara.

"And to ignore them, or to marginalize them now, would be robbing them of everything that's their right."