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Women in Libya

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Women in Libya

Women in Libya
Female protestors in Tripoli protest against calls to separate the country into three autonomous regions (March 2012).
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.216 (2012)
Rank 36th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 58 (2010)
Women in parliament 16.5% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 55.6% (2010)
Women in labour force 30.1% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index
Value NR (2012)
Rank NR out of 136

Women in Libya are women who were born in, who live in, or are from Libya.


  • Society under dictatorship 1
    • Emancipation 1.1
      • Voting and government 1.1.1
      • Association 1.1.2
      • Employment 1.1.3
        • Childcare and retirement benefits
        • Business and finance
        • 21st century
      • Education 1.1.4
      • Housing 1.1.5
      • Healthcare 1.1.6
      • Culture 1.1.7
      • Military 1.1.8
      • Marriage 1.1.9
  • Post Revolution 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Society under dictatorship

The roles and status of women had then become the subject of a great deal of discussion and legal action in Libya after the change of rule, as they have in many countries of the Middle East. Some observers suggested that the regime made efforts on behalf of female emancipation because it viewed women as an essential source of labour in an economy chronically starved for workers. They also postulated that the government was interested in expanding its political base, hoping to curry favour by championing female rights. Since independence, Libyan leaders have been committed to improving the condition of women but within the framework of Arabic and Islamic values.[1] Central to the revolution of 1969 was the empowerment of women and removal of inferior status.[2]


In the 1970s, female emancipation was in large measure a matter of age. One observer generalized that city women under the age of thirty-five had discarded the traditional veil and were quite likely to wear Western-style clothing. Those between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five were increasingly ready to consider such a change, but women over the age of forty-five appeared reluctant to give up the protection which they perceived their veils and customary dress to afford. A decade later, veiling was uncommon among urban women - though this has changed in recent years with the levels of unveiled women almost being negligible in modern day Libya.[1]

During this era, women were also increasingly seen driving, shopping, or travelling without husbands or male companions (known as Mahrams).

Voting and government

Since the early 1920s, Libyan women have had the right to vote and to participate in political life. They could also own and dispose of property independently of their husbands, but all of these rights were exercised by only a few women before the 1969 revolution.

Since then, the government has encouraged women to participate in elections and national political institutions, but in 1987 only one woman had advanced as far as the national cabinet, as an assistant secretary for information and culture.[1] However, from 1989 to 1994 Fatima Abd al-Hafiz Mukhtar served as Minister of Education. Salma Ahmed Rashed, from 1992 to 1994, served as Assistant Secretary of Women, then as Secretary in the General Secretariat of the General Peoples' Congress for Women's Affairs from 1994 to 1995, and was eventually the Ambassador to the League of Arab Nations in 1996. Others serving as Secretary in the General Secretariat of the General Peoples' Congress for Women's Affairs included from 1995 to 1998 Thuriya Ramadan Abu Tabrika, Nura Han Ramadan Abu Sefrian from 1998 to 2000, Dr. Shalma Chabone Abduljabbar, and Amal Nuri Abdullah al-Safar from 2006 to 2009. Women serving as Secretary in the General Secretariat of the General Peoples' Congress for Social Affairs have included Dr. Shalma Chabone Abduljabbar and Abd-al-Alim al-Shalwi, while from 1995 to 2000 Fawziya Bashir al-Shalababi served as Secretary for Information, Culture and Mass Mobilization. Dr. Huda Fathi Ben Amer began serving as the Secretary of People's Committees Affairs in 2009, and also served as President of the Transitional Arab Parliament.[3] Dr. Salma Shabaan Abdel Jabar began serving as Secretary of Woman Affairs in 2009.[4]


Women were also able to form their own associations, the first of which dated to 1955 in Benghazi. In 1970 several feminist organizations merged into the Women's General Union, which in 1977 became the Jamahiriya Women's Federation. Under Clause 5 of the Constitutional Proclamation of December 11, 1969, women had already been given equal status under the law with men. Subsequently, the women's movement has been active in such fields as adult education and hygiene.[1]


Women had also made great gains in employment outside the home, the result of improved access to education and of increased acceptance of female paid employment. Once again, the government was the primary motivating force behind this phenomenon. For example, the 1976–80 development plan called for employment of a larger number of women "in those spheres which are suitable for female labour", but the Libyan identification of what work was suitable for women continued to be limited by tradition. According to the 1973 census, the participation rate for women (the percent of all women engaged in economic activity) was about 3 percent as compared with 37 percent for men. The participation was somewhat higher than the 2.7 percent registered in 1964, but it was considerably lower than that in other Maghrib countries and in most of the Middle Eastern Arab states.[1]

In the 1980s, in spite of the gain registered by women during the prior decade, females constituted only 7 percent of the national labour force, according to one informed researcher. This represented a 2 percent increase over a 20-year period. Another source, however, considered these figures far too low. Reasoning from 1973 census figures and making allowances for full- and part-time, seasonal, paid, and unpaid employment, these researchers argued convincingly that women formed more than 20 percent of the total economically active Libyan population. For rural areas their figure was 46 percent, far higher than official census numbers for workers who in most cases were not only unpaid but not even considered as employed.[1]

Among non-agricultural women, those who were educated and skilled were overwhelmingly employed as teachers. The next highest category of educated and skilled women ware nurses and those found in the health care field. Others areas that were open to women included administrative and clerical work in banks, department stores, and government offices and domestic services. Women were found in ever larger numbers as nurses and midwives, but even so, Libyan health care facilities suffered from a chronic shortage of staff.[1]

By contrast, in clerical and secretarial jobs, the problem was not a shortage of labour but a deep-seated cultural bias against the intermingling of men and women in the workplace. During the 1970s, the attraction of employment as domestics tended to decline, as educated and ambitious women turned to more lucrative occupations. To fill the gap, Libyan households sought to hire foreigners, particularly Egyptians and Tunisians.[1]

Light industry, especially cottage-style, was yet another outlet for female labour, a direct result of Libya's labour shortage. Despite these employment outlets and gains, female participation in the work force of the 1980s remained small, and many socially female jobs were filled by foreign women. Also, in spite of significant increases in female enrollments in the educational system, including university level, few women were found, even as technicians, in such traditionally male fields as medicine, engineering, and law.[1]

Non-urban women constituted a quite significant, if largely invisible, proportion of the rural work force. According to the 1973 census, there were only l4, 000 economically active women out of a total of 200,000 rural females older than age 10. In all likelihood, however, many women engaged in agricultural or domestic tasks worked as unpaid members of family groups and hence were not regarded as gainfully employed, accounting to at least in part for the low census count. Estimates of actual female rural employment in the mid 1970s, paid and unpaid ranged upward of 86,000, as compared with 96,000 men in the rural work force. In addition to agriculture, both rural and nomadic women engaged in the weaving of rugs and carpets, another sizable category of unpaid and unreported labor.[1]

Beginning in 1970, the revolutionary government passed a series of laws regulating female employment - equal pay for equal work and qualifications became a fundamental precept.[1] Other statutes strictly regulate the hours and conditions of work, specifically the prohibition of hard labor, and 48 hours.[5]

Childcare and retirement benefits

Working mothers enjoyed a range of benefits designed to encourage them to continue working even after marriage and childbirth, including cash bonuses for the first child and free day care centres. A woman could retire at age fifty-five, and she was entitled to a pension.[1]

Business and finance

Women are free to engage in the private business and finance sectors, and banks to not require the consent of the husband to obtain a loan.[5]

21st century

Employment was estimated at 22% for Libyan women by the early 21st century,[6] and 27% by 2006, relatively high for an Arab nation.[7] This marked a 14% increase since 1986.[7] Employment by women in Libya is largely influenced by choice.[5] Positions in all fields of the economy were held, including lawyers, doctors, judges, and senior government positions.[6]

In May 2011, the New York Times reported during the Libyan civil war that the rebels had begun rolling back this progress as their size increased. One Libyan woman, a 23-year-old therapist, quit the rebel National Transitional Council saying when the revolution started, women had a big role, but it had disappeared.[6]


Under King Idris, educating women was considered suspicious. During the last decade of his rule, females enrolled in primary education was only between 11-19%. Under Article 14 of the Libyan Constitutional Declaration in 1969, education was made a right, and by 1990 the figure stood at 48%. Enrollment in higher education stood at 8% in 1966, but reached 43% by 1996, equal to males.[8]

By 2001, 16% had a university degree or higher, and 48% a secondary school certificate, in which there is no prohibition on choice educational studies.[5]


At the time of the revolution in 1969, 40% of the population lived in tents or shanty houses and was one of the worst in the Arab world.[9] The revolution promised "housing for all", and by 1997 virtually every Libyan owned their own home through government laws which supported such. Criticized by opponents of the government for not creating a mortgage market,[10] women obtained equal rights as men to own and have independent use of their property.[5]


Following the revolution in 1969, universal healthcare services were created through the National Social Insurance Institute, with women having equal access.[11] Between 1969 and 1978, the number of physicians increased by 4-5 times. Libya had one of the best healthcare systems in Africa before the 1992 U.N. sanctions, which rapidly declined the quality of medicine and supplies.[2]


By the 1980s relations within the family and between the sexes, along with all other aspects of Libyan life, had begun to show notable change. As the mass media popularized new ideas, new perceptions and practices appeared. Foreign settlers and foreign workers frequently embodied ideas and values distinctively different from those traditional in the country. In particular, the perceptions of Libyans in everyday contact with Europeans were affected.

The continued and accelerating process of urbanization had broken old kinship ties and association with ancestral rural communities. At the same time, opportunities for upward social movement have increased, and petroleum wealth and the development plans of the revolutionary government have made many new kinds of employment available thus opening up more well paid jobs for women especially among the educated young. Many of these educated and increasingly independent young women preferred to set up their own households at marriage, rather than live with their in-laws. In addition social security, free medical care, education, and other appurtenances of the welfare state had lessened the dependence of the aged on their children in village communities and had almost eliminated it in the cities.


As of the late 20th century the regime had sought to introduce women into the armed forces. In the 1978 Libya's new military academy began training women, training thousands since.[12] In the early 1980s where the 'Nuns of the Revolution' were created as a specialist police force attached to revolutionary committees.[1] Then in 1984, a law mandating female conscription that required all students in secondary schools and above to participate in military training was passed.[1] In addition, young women were encouraged to attend female military academies, the first of which was established in 1979. These proposals originated with Colonel Gaddafi, who hoped that they would help create a new image and role for Libyan women everywhere. Nonetheless, the concept of female training in the martial arts encountered such widespread opposition that meaningful compliance seemed unlikely.


Child brides were banned, and the minimum legal age to marry placed at 18.[12] Since 1973 Libyan women have had equal rights in obtaining a divorce.[2]

Post Revolution

Salwa El-Deghali, a Libyan lawyer and member of the National Transitional Council

After the 17 February revolution in Libya, women in Libya have enjoyed a far greater exposure in public life and government. Thirty-three women have were elected to serve in Libya’s General National Congress in the first free elections since the NATO-backed revolt deposed and killed Muammar Gaddafi,[13] however, "the ways in which the New Libyan state chooses to appropriate or obliterate the remnants of Gadaffi’s gender regime remains to be seen."[14]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies. (Data as of 1987.)

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Libya", Helen Chapin Metz. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4191-3012-9, ISBN 978-1-4191-3012-0. p. 111-115
  2. ^ a b c "Libya", Peter Malcolm, Elizabeth Losleben. Marshall Cavendish, 2004. ISBN 0-7614-1702-8, ISBN 978-0-7614-1702-6. p. 73, 76, 78
  3. ^ "Fifth meeting of women Speakers of Parliament", The World of Parliaments. Quarterly Review. September 2009. Accessed June 9, 2011
  4. ^ "Great Arab Socialist Peoples' Republic of Libya", Guide 2 WomenLeaders. Accessed June 9, 2011
  5. ^ a b c d e "Women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa: citizenship and justice", Sameena Nazir, Leigh Tomppert. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. ISBN 0-7425-4992-5, ISBN 978-0-7425-4992-0. p. 173, 174
  6. ^ a b c "Libya Revolt Sidelines Women, Who Led It", Kareem Fahim. New York Times. May 19, 2011. Accessed June 9, 2011
  7. ^ a b "Women indebted to Gaddafi for power", The Star. June 9, 2011
  8. ^ "The Libyan economy: economic diversification and international repositioning", Waniss A. Otman, Erling Karlberg. Springer, 2007. ISBN 3-540-46460-3, ISBN 978-3-540-46460-0. p. 127
  9. ^ "Terrorism and the state: a critique of domination through fear", William D. Perdue. ABC-CLIO, 1989. ISBN 0-275-93140-4, ISBN 978-0-275-93140-7. p. 128
  10. ^ "The Libyan economy: economic diversification and international repositioning", Waniss A. Otman, Erling Karlberg. Springer, 2007. ISBN 3-540-46460-3, ISBN 978-3-540-46460-0. p. 147
  11. ^ "Women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa: citizenship and justice", Sameena Nazir, Leigh Tomppert. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. ISBN 0-7425-4992-5, ISBN 978-0-7425-4992-0. p. 178
  12. ^ a b "God has ninety-nine names: reporting from a militant Middle East", Judith Miller. Simon and Schuster, 1997. ISBN 0-684-83228-3, ISBN 978-0-684-83228-9. p. 227
  13. ^
  14. ^

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