by Nafissa Assed.
The world was plainly stunned by Libya’s uprising he-roes. But it high time . . .[restrict]we fêted Libya’s uprising she-roes!
The success of the Libyan Revolution has been usually portrayed by images and videos of Libyan men, typically revolutionaries firing their Kalashnikovs on different frontlines. But one group has been lost in the reshuffling: women.
We should not forget the central role women played in the Libyan uprising and their vital contribution for its success. Although, women could not be warriors in the struggle to overthrow Gaddafi and finish his regime, the fight to oust him was made mutually by men and women but in different ways.
Libyan women did their part to help men liberate the cities. For example, while the fighting raged on the frontline and their men were fighting to liberate the cities from Gaddafi’s brigades, women mobilized in the cities in support of their husbands, sons and brothers. They became the crucial support troops needed in any war. In eastern Libya, while the revolutionaries were struggling to set the town of Bin Jawad free, every day almost 300 thousand sandwiches and hot meals get sent to the front, a sign of care and love to those risking their lives for the sake of freedom.
Besides, Libyan women played a fundamental role in treating the wounds of war as well. In the early days of the uprising, many physicians and healthcare professionals fled the country, creating grave shortages of medical staff. Many of Libya’s female doctors and nurses worked long hours to fill in the gaps. Dr Laila, an old a friend of mine from Benghazi and who graduated from medical school less than two years ago, took on the arduous double-role of both physician and nurse — and kept me continuously updated from Al-Jalaa hospital about the number of deaths and injuries. She provided me with many other details like the serious shortage of medical tools and how many injured people died because of it, how Gaddafi’s forces came to take the dead bodies of the martyrs out of the hospital to unknown places in an wicked attempt to hide their inhuman crimes.
In the early days of the uprising, when Libyans were already under the eyes of the regime, Alya, another friend of mine did not hesitate providing me with many important details. She also called me many times to let me hear the sound of the non-stop machineguns near her house, randomly killing any unarmed protesters in the way of the forces.
We tried to use simple codes as much as we could, without mentioning names (who knows who might have been listening in). Nonetheless Alya told me: ‘’I am ready to give you all the details with no codes, because I am neither scared nor better than the women, men and children who died for Libya.” She insisted that I write it all down — everything happening inside Benghazi. Although that, too, required some guile, my friends’ audacity didn’t make me hesitate for a second to call media outlets outside the country and tell them what was happening inside it.
A few days ago, while I was talking about International Women’s Day (which occurred on Thursday) to a woman about her involvement in the Libyan uprising, she told me: ‘’ Unfortunately, I am an old woman with health issues and I couldn’t do much to participate — but during the Libyan war I secretly sewed many flags for our revolutionaries. I didn’t stop praying and spreading hope among our courageous freedom fighters. I did all my best to support other women and keep their spirits high in time of despair.’’
She also told me: ‘’a friend of mine once said to me ‘I think we need to stop’. I responded firmly: “NO. We have to have hope and more patience. If we stop now we’re going to get killed anyway, both ways! I am scared but I didn’t give up praying for my 21-year-old son and all the revolutionaries risking their lives. We must keep a strong faith because crossing the bridge to freedom is so expensive‘’.
Women in Libya want more. And I believe they are talented, capable and determined to be placed where they make decisions.
It is not just sons and husbands who gave their best for the liberty of Libya and paid the price. Women paid a very high price too. As in many of the attacks by Qaddafi forces, women were often targeted for physical and psychological violence the aim being to frighten, intimidate and humiliate them. They were assaulted and raped by Qaddafi’s troops.
We are all aware of the statement from the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, that there was evidence suggesting that Qaddafi himself had ordered mass rape and distributed drugs to encourage attacks on women. A significant psychological turning point in the Libyan revolt was when Eman Al-Obeidi courageously revealed to foreign journalists at Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel the brutal attack she suffered at the hands of Qaddafi’s forces.
There are many inspiring Libyan women who, during Libya’s revolution, dedicated themselves to the struggle by educating, organizing, feeding and healing. They too took a lead and, in doing so, made decisions about Libya’s future.
Mufeeda Al-Masri is one of the great examples of Libyan female fighters. She is a strong-willed Libyan woman who has dedicated herself to educate girls in need of more schooling and learning. In 2008, she decided to open Al-Irtiqa (“progress”) School in Benghazi for girls. However, during the uprising, Mufeeda did not think twice about transforming her school into a kitchen for many volunteers who wanted to prepare food and meals for the revolutionaries.
When the revolution came, Libyan women took action. They accomplished far more than send their sons and husbands to the front. They hid fighters and cooked them meals. They sewed flags, collected money, contacted journalists. They ran guns and, in a few cases, used them. The list of inspiring Libyan women goes on and on and their astounding efforts have confirmed a great sense of unity and love that was almost absent before the revolt.
Women’s contributions to the Libyan uprising have proved that Libya is a united state. Libyans —male and female, young and old — were unafraid because they were tremendously united. It was the force and power of that unity that got rid of Qaddafi and his vicious forces once and for all.
Nafissa Assed has writes for numerous blogs and on-line publications. She is a former Libyan exile who was born and brought up in Morocco. Her father returned in 1990 but was murdered by the Qaddafi regime in Libya. After his death she lived with her grandfather, Mohamed Othman Assed, who was prime minister of Libya from 17 October 1960 to 19 March 1963. In 2010, she moved to Libya full-time, hoping to use her media skills for the cultural healing and rebuilding of my society.
After the Libyan revolution started, she wrote anonymously from Tripoli on what was going on inside the country.