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Old Habits Die Hard

The Libyan woman is the cornerstone of the family. In most cases she is the one who takes care of the children's and the family's needs on a day to day basis, even if she has a fulltime job. This is always considered her duty and never given a second thought as something she deserves acknowledgement or credit for. That's fine and perfect human behavior and is the case in many other societies.

Libyans have a long way to go before they start talking about women's rights and discussing the international conventions and conferences for women issues and how they affect the Libyan woman and family. We first have to acknowledge the woman as a partner with a very important role in building the family and the society. It is not about making women equal to men, by nature, women and men are different, but that does not mean they are not equal partners in building the society. The woman has a very vital and critical role in that as much as the man and any civilized society that cares about its wellbeing and that of its members recognizes that and acts accordingly.

Discrimination against women in the Libyan society is very visible and requires immediate attention from all parties. A couple of recent incidents happened this week and caught my attention, as a woman, and they confirm the level of discrimination we suffer from. What makes it more infuriating is that both acts came from people who live in the west, in countries where women's rights are guarded and discrimination against them is forbidden by law.

The first example is the's announcement of a lecture about the future of Libyan families and Libyan women. One would think the obvious thing to do is to invite a woman to discuss the issue from a woman's point of view. But that's not the case. The guest or the speaker is a man and the woman is being excluded for reasons only the organizers can explain. There are many qualified and visible Libyan women that would add a lot by participating in such discussion. Any one who follows the Libyan news sites can see many who participate or are mentioned in various articles.

No one can claim that a man is not qualified to discuss issues pertaining to women and family. But why brush women aside and act as if they could not participate actively in matters that affect their lives and their families? Is it our make up as a society with male dominance that diminished the existence of women to this extent in the eyes of our other halves?

The second example is in Guma Elgumati's article titled "Mawsoo'at el-hijra al-libiya" (
).Going by the Libyan citizenship laws that were established half a century ago, he defines "Libyans" as those women and men born to a Libyan father. And I ask, how is a man considered more Libyan than a woman, to the extent that his children are always Libyans, but the woman's children are not? Offspring of a Libyan mother are no less Libyan than those of a Libyan father, even their genetic make-up has the same Libyan content.

It is very disturbing to see a double standard of Libyan identity being applied by people who live abroad and probably have children of their own. What are the probabilities for Libyan girls abroad to marry Libyan boys down the line? There are many examples already of Libyan women married to non-Libyans and the number will be increasing with time because we are such a small community. Does that mean we should let go of members of our society and deprive them the right to be Libyan just because of their mother's legitimate choice of partner? Also, it is common knowledge that the mother has more influence in raising the children than the father. The question we should ask ourselves is, do we want to keep our daughters and their offspring as part of our community or do we want to sever them from us? If we do not let them know and feel that they are as Libyan as anyone else, regardless of their husbands' nationality, then we will lose them. They will not have the sense of belonging to the Libyan community, and eventually will lose their Libyan identity and will not pass it on to their children. For our own survival, we should do all we can to strengthen the sense of Libyan identity among the youth, not to exclude them and cut them off.

Improving a society and advancing it has many aspects that one should address and deal with. The examples I mentioned might seem small by themselves but they are samples of large problems that need generations to fix even if we try. Social and behavioral issues are critical and they need to be addressed as much as the political issues. Unfortunately, the majority if not all Libyans are focusing only on the political factor and no attention is being paid to the rest. Maybe it is the trend nowadays, and everyone wants a piece of the pie when political change happens. At the end of the day a change is only a beginning, but old habits die hard.


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