News / Africa

Womens' Rights Unclear in Post-Gadhafi Libya

As Libya heads toward elections, there are Western concerns its new government could move towards conservative Islam and limit the rights of women.

On Libya’s Liberation Day, transitional leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said in the new Libya he wants men to be allowed to marry up to four wives, without getting permission from their existing wives, as a Gadhafi-era law required.

That raises concerns in the West, and among some Libyans.  But many Libyans take the announcement in stride, including unmarried 19-year-old university student Zakia Hassan who acknowledges that the arrangement of her future husband with multiple wives would not be a problem for her.

But other Libyan women express concerns. One woman stated: “I have no objection to Sharia, but we should not just give men the right to marry additional women and forget about the rights of his other wives.” Another, “I have no objection to men taking multiple wives, but not my husband.  Only if I’m sick and can’t take care of him.  But if I’m OK, no way I could accept that.” Yet another, “A man has the right to marry another woman, but he should get permission from his first wife.”

Libyan lawyer Manal al-Deber, who lived in Britain for 14 years, thinks Westerners are too worried about this aspect of Islam. “Everybody’s scared on this point," she said. "But when you give man authority to do it, he will run away from it [laughs]. “

Several men indicate she might be right. One man stated: "One wife is just enough.  We have many problems, and more than one wife, come on, we can take one and we can say that that’s it.  More than one, it might be a difficult problem." Another, "“If you ask me for my own opinion, one woman is too enough for me.”

But clothing importer Marukh Dubruk has a different view. “I already have two wives, and I will take a third, God willing," he said. In Sharia, we can have up to four wives, but a man must be fair with all of them.”

One concern is that allowing multiple wives would go along with limits on women’s rights.  But Libyan psychiatrist Iman Farhad, a mother of two, is not worried about that. “My husband wouldn’t do that.  And if he is going to do that, he doesn’t need my permission," she stated. "He can do it without that."

That is not going to convince those who worry about the future of women’s rights in Libya.  

But in fact the revolution inspired some women to get more involved in their society.  One organization that sprung up is Heartfelt Promise, founded by housewife Su’ad al-Feituri and several of her neighbors. “The goal is to raise the standards of Libyan women, for example by teaching them how to operate computers and how to speak English," she said."Democracy starts from the smallest units of society, and then it expands.”

All across the country, women joined in the celebrations of Libya’s liberation.  But as Libyans build their new society, one question they will have to answer is to what extent women will truly be involved.

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