By Nafissa Assed.
How often Libyan women are verbally abused in Libya? As a young woman who has experienced the very worst of the Libyan man’s verbal pestering, I can say that every time a woman leaves her home, not only she is frowned upon by society if she enters a restaurant alone or is seen in a car driven by a man who is not a close relative, but she is constantly verbally abused, sometime even physically.
Libyan verbal harassment is not just offensive or annoying, it is sexually explicit, undignified and potentially scarring. No woman, adolescent, rich, poor, fat, attractive, veiled or ugly, is spared. Libyan men continually harass women because they simply can do so, without suffering any consequences. In fact, if a Libyan woman were to report an incident to a policeman, it is very likely he would harass her as well. The Libyan authorities have largely turned a blind eye to this, backed in part by a bedouin mentality that still views women outside the home as sluts. The situation is so bad that leaving the home can turn into a risky experience.
In Tripoli, where I work and live independently, every time I go out to run errands, I need to think twice before deciding to go out alone, because I know in advance that if I go unaccompanied, I may be inviting trouble and be repeatedly subject to sexual remarks from probably even man twice my age.
Two days ago, a friend of mine was violently grabbed by her hand by a group of youngsters while she was walking peacefully in downtown Tripoli with her parents and others sisters!
Every time I bring up the subject, people say: “Just pretend they don’t exist and keep doing whatever you’re doing. We’re used to this”.
I totally disagree! Opting as many women do, to just ignore a man’s sexual harassments over and over again by pretending they do not exist is not the solution. Men often persist no matter how long I ignore them until the situation becomes so annoying that I finally will have to acknowledge it by giving them some words of my own.
At this point, the man will not hesitate to attempt to hit me. And he knows in advance that if he does he will not face any consequences.
This scenario is repeated on a daily basis and many women in Libya do not feel safe walking alone in public places, driving their own cars, or using public transport.
Sexual harassment of women in Libya is no laughing matter. It is endemic – and it is time it was taken more seriously. The number of women who are verbally abused while going about their daily lives is increasingly daily. Every one of my female friends experience this kind of abuse in Libya and I am sure it is the same for many if not all Libyan women.
It is terrifying that nothing is done about it. I wonder if the acts of sexual assault will ever become legally punishable in our new brand Libya.
I hope this serious and prolonged problem will soon be one of the major points of the Libyan government’s agenda; because if it does not do anything about it, some day everyone in the Libyan authority will take a long hard look at themselves and realise that they encouraged this disgusting behaviour.
Civil society organisations in Libya should hold events on this matter and support women to share and expose their experience of sexual harassment in public places. Also, NGOs in Libya should build structured public
campaigns to ensure a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment.
Libyans are working together to build a whole new system, and people are changing their attitudes dramatically every day, but when it comes to attitudes of sexual harassment of women, nothing will change unless the government imposes tough rules against such behaviour.
If Libyans are seriously trying to strengthen the country’s economy and reverse its former pariah image, it should first improve conditions for the Libyan woman in a practical manner and place rules that protect her rights within the Libyan society. They have to be rules that are not enforced by social pressure, but by law. Doing so would also put foreign investors—some of them women — at ease.
Besides, talented Libyan women would feel happier about contributing to their society. It would increase the willingness of those living and working oversees to fulfill their long held dream to come back and serve their country.
Societies do not change overnight. But they can progress when governments enforce the laws they has put in print.
Women from most, if not all, Arab countries experience sexual harassment, but in Libya it getting out of control. It is quite creepy and barbaric. It is evidence of a society kept in chains by its own introverted way of thinking.
Nafissa Assed writes for numerous blogs and on-line publications. She is a former Libyan exile who was born and brought up in Morocco. Her father returned in 1990 but was murdered by the Qaddafi regime in Libya. After his death she lived with her grandfather, Mohamed Othman Assed, Libya’s prime minister from 17 October 1960 to 19 March 1963. In 2010, she moved to Libya full-time.
After the Libyan revolution started, she wrote anonymously from Tripoli on what was going on inside the country.