Libyan Women: Defying the Stereotypes

Whatever position you take on the democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East, and the West’s reaction to them, it’s been heartening to see so many women involved in the demonstrations appearing daily on our television screens.  The stereotypes of Arabs that we have grown up with – of bombers, belly dancers, and billionaires – have been blown to the skies as young men and women have taken to the streets wanting the same things as young people in the West – democratic rights, jobs, a good life.  Not too much to ask for!

What has been noticeable this time compared to other periods of ferment in Arab and Muslim countries is the presence of women – young women, older women, women articulate in English who are willing and able to plead their people’s cause.

France 24 International News Channel reports of a recent march of several thousand Libyan women through the streets of rebel-held Benghazi demanding a no-fly zone to stop Gaddafi from bombing rebel fighters. “No-fly zone! No-fly zone!” chanted the crowd in English and in unison, waved Libyan flags and flashed victory signs as they marched along the seafront.

Students, mothers, grandmothers, children and toddlers walked hand in hand, most of them wearing headscarves and some with flags painted on their cheeks and Libyan flags wrapped around their foreheads, bandana-style. They held up framed photographs of male relatives killed since the uprising began in mid-February and banners scrawled with slogans such as: “Is oil more expensive than the blood of our sons?”

One demonstrator held up a poster depicting Gaddafi as a vampire, with fangs, fuzzy hair, blood dripping from his mouth and a pirate’s eye-patch. Another woman in a headscarf shouted “we want a no-fly zone because we are dying, we are dying, we are dying. We need help from the UN,” .

However they also stated emphatically that they were not demanding an invasion. “We don’t want foreign intervention, we just want a no-fly zone and our boys will do the rest. But they have light weapons in the face of air strikes,” said Nada el-Turki, an economics student walking hand in hand with a toddler.

Gaby Weiner, GEA Chair


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