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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs