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Boxed In? The Women of Libya's Revolution

Ann Marlowe

The whole world is watching Benghazi’s National Transitional Councilalso known as the “rebel” government, though they hate that term. Inevitably its performance functions as an indicator not only of Libya’s readiness for democracy but of the whole Arab world’s. The announcement on July 28th of the killing of the revolutionary military chief General Abdel Fatah Younis, for example, has focused attention on the ability of the council to control its military forces and maintain the rule of law. As more and more countries recognize its legitimacy (the UK and the US are the most recent and most important of more than thirty countries to do so), there is also more scrutiny of its makeup. Inevitably this means a scrutiny of its inclusiveness, too.

There are only two women in the forty-person body: Hania al-Gumati (minister of social welfare) and Salwa el-Degheli. The NTC grew from the group of Benghazi lawyers who called the courthouse square demonstrations, which eventually led to other, armed demonstrations against the Qaddafi regime in late February. Selwa Bugaighis, a prominent activist and an attorney in private practice, said that of Benghazi’s thirteen hundred lawyers, forty percent are women. Libyan women participate in professional roles in large numbers. Perhaps the one good aspect of Qaddafi’s regime was his mandating equal pay for equal work for men and women.

So it is perhaps understandable that prominent Libyan women I talked to in mid-April didn’t seem particularly worried about the gender disparity in the NTC. But by late Maywith eastern Libya free and governed by the council longer than anyone thought possiblesome of the women lawyers present from the start began to express concerns about the paucity of women invited to leadership positions.

Hania al-Gumati is the sole woman in the NTC’s new sixteen-member Executive Office (Maktab al-Tanfeethi). Though she is a philosophy professor at Benghazi’s Garyounis University, Hania has been given one of the “pink” portfolioscare of the disadvantaged. Selwa Bugaighis explained that the only woman besides Hania offered a ministry lives in the US and was unwilling to return to Libya permanently. She may have been offended that the ministry offered to her oversaw another traditionally feminine sector, education. . . .

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