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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More