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.
TEXT SIZE - +

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.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid