News / Africa

    Libyan Women Give Hidden Backing to Uprising

    In the garage of her Tripoli house, Fatma Ghobtan checks a pot on a charcoal stove she fashioned from two car wheels after gas was cut off.
    In the garage of her Tripoli house, Fatma Ghobtan checks a pot on a charcoal stove she fashioned from two car wheels after gas was cut off.
    James Brooke

    Images of Libya’s uprising are overwhelmingly of men - typically rebel fighters firing their Kalashnikovs. But a visit behind the high walls of a family compound on a tree-lined street in Tripoli reveals the hidden contribution of Libyan women.

    Ten steps from the burned hulk of a rebel car hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, Fatma Ghobtan cautiously opens the metal door to her compound.  Walking past buckets of water and unwashed dishes in the front yard, she apologizes. “Sorry. Seven days we don’t have water, so we can’t clean everything,” said Ghobtan.

    In addition to one week without running water, electricity is erratic. Lines for bread and gasoline are long. Libya has the 10th largest oil reserves in the world. But piped gas long ago stopped reaching the kitchen of Ghobtan. To make do, she cooks on charcoal grills improvised from car wheels.

    “Here we make our bread. I put the charcoal down here, and comes the heat, and put the bread, and then we turn it off. And this is the way - how we make our food,” she said.

    The compound tour continues past a clothes washer that gathers dust from lack of use. Ghobtan knows the value of water. A horticulturist, she takes care of decorative indoor plants at an international hotel that closed after Tripoli’s August 21 uprising. At home, she connects plastic pipes from her four air conditioners to catch drips - when the air conditioners are working. This way, she collects about 20 liters a day in plastic basins.

    “For drinking we buy water, but this we use for anything for the house, for cleaning, for washing our body,” said Ghobtan.

    The stress, conflict, and adjusting to life without utilities is taking its toll. In the last month, Ghobtan says, she has lost six kilos. But, reflecting in the quiet of her thickly carpeted living room, she says that there is more to modern life than running water. “We can live without water," said Ghobtan. "But there is something more important - Freedom!”

    While Libyan women struggle to keep households running and families intact, they also are behind-the-scenes supporters of what many here refer to as ‘the revolution.’

    Clandestine sewing work

    A son of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s deposed dictator, lived several doors down from Ghobtan’s compound. Now, it turns out that women in houses surrounding the Gadhafi compound were secretly sewing the red, green and black flags of the rebels. She recalls asking a housewife friend.

    “From where did you find the flag? She told me I have red T-shirt, black T-shirt, a white T-shirt. I just cut them. We made the flags. We are afraid to go buy the materials. Red - after that they will say, ‘come here, why are you buy these three colors?’ So everyone is going to one shop to buy the red color, another to buy the black color, another - the green color. A little tricky,” said Ghobtan.

    This clandestine sewing work by Tripoli’s women may explain why rebel banners suddenly appeared across the city on uprising day - a sight that clearly unnerved Gadhafi's soldiers. She says that Libyan women have made a far greater sacrifice for regime change - their sons.

    “The Libyan ladies worked a lot for this revolution, especially the mothers," said Ghobtan. "It is not easy to tell your son,‘take your bag and go.”

    Supporting role

    The household behind hers lost a young father - a 26-year-old man shot dead as he participated in the city’s first uprising - on February 20. She has a cousin who has six daughters and one son. All the same, the family supported the son’s decision to join the rebels. As she tells the story, this young man coincidentally calls her to extend Eid al Fitr greetings to his aunt. The brief conversation leaves her on the brink of tears.

    “So I asked him what happened. He said 'I have seen things'. Thank God he is safe,” she said.

    Behind every fighter in Libya, she says, there is a supporting mother or wife. “They are encouraging them, even the wives. It is not easy. We lost how many? 50,000. 50,000! They are the roses of the country. We miss them,” said Ghobtan.

    Then domestic challenges return. She apologizes for a soot-streaked white cat that pads through the living room. She says the cat keeps tracking in dirt from the firefight that swept down her residential street last week.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.