News / Middle East

Libya Women Report Increased Harassment

FILE - Women wait to vote at a polling station during national assembly elections in Tripoli, July 7, 2012.
FILE - Women wait to vote at a polling station during national assembly elections in Tripoli, July 7, 2012.
Sexual harassment of women is increasing in Libya and women complain that combined with the general lawlessness in the country their daily lives are becoming more of an ordeal and perilous.

It was bad under former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi with men jostling, groping and pestering women in shops, universities and offices and demanding sex but since his ouster two years ago harassment has worsened, say activists and ordinary women.

British expatriate Anne has lived in Libya since 1965.  VOA is using only first names as activists fear being targeted.

“It is worse now. When I first came over there was very little harassment of women. In general, the youngsters were very respectful and friendly," said Anne.

The Gadhafi family and their top officials were notorious for abducting women, sometimes spotting them at hair salons or shops. Women would be summoned from their homes after they had been noticed at social events, according to a recently published book Gaddafi's Harem by Le Monde journalist Annick Cojean.

That behavior spread through society, convincing men beyond the power circles that women were fair game, says Nisreen.

“The Gadhafi time there was a lot of sexual harassment and the generations have now grown up with that,” she added.

She says that post-revolution sexual harassment in Libya’s capital and the bigger cities has increased and is now at a different level, with lawlessness making the country more dangerous. 

Going out alone or even with female friends risks verbal and sometimes physical abuse, she says. Even shopping has become an ordeal.

“You have all these youngsters who are high on drugs and drunk and who are going around and when they see someone they like or whatever and they start harassing her," said Nisreen.

Libya isn’t the only Middle East country to be experiencing a post-Arab spring explosion of sexual harassment.

In May the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence. Nearly 50 percent of women reported more harassment after the revolution ousting ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

Without a functioning police force there are no statistics available to know how frequent the problem is in the Middle East.

But activists in Libya say it is pervasive and that women are afraid to report harassment fearing they will be harassed by police when they do.

Leila, another activist, says many professional women try to find work they can do from home. She thinks twice about running errands.

“I can’t even walk to the next-door grocery store. I have to take the car,” she said.

Angry about the harassment, activists have followed an example set in Egypt and launched a “Don’t Harass Me” website to record incidents and to try to prod Libyan authorities to act.

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Comment Sorting
by: Alexander Hagen
November 02, 2013 11:48 AM
First Step in disinformation
Create false equivalency. The idea that a climate of sexual harassment existed prior to the NATO intervention - attempts to create causality. In fact their is no connection between the former Government, which had some of the most progressive policies for Women of any Islamic or Arab countries. This article is typical of the low journalistic standards often found in Western Media. Just anecdotes.

by: Sir from: Libya
November 02, 2013 8:45 AM
I live in Libya right now and this story is just a little off. Specifically Tripoli which is where I am at the moment. Women are out all day walking, driving, working. Judging by the young Libyans that I know, verbal harrasment is the most common type of harassment. Physical harassment is very rare and is frowned upon by the community.

by: moon from: ajk
November 01, 2013 4:08 PM
Mr godwin before commeting on sexul harrsmet in islamist country you must check the stastistcs of your christian states where 65000 rapes were registered last year only in south africa, so imagin what will be the overall statistics of all christian countries, ist look at your own house & than comment on islamist country....

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
November 01, 2013 2:39 PM
What else do you expect in an islmaist country? Women want to wear hijab and cover their faces in inhuman dressing just to prove they are muslims and spite the free world, good for them. But they should stop crying out when it gets beyond their noses to drown them, for surely it will get there and swallow them up. No one should stand up to their rescue. The greatest enemy of the women are the women themselves. Give them a chance, they will make more stringent laws -worse laws - against themselves. So why should anyone cry for them?

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