By Nadia Hamed-Maddox
Last year, as I waited for Tripoli to be liberated, my thoughts raced with ideas for changing Libya and . . .[restrict]righting the wrongs that were perpetrated by the Qaddafi regime. I quickly jumped into action, creating a group on Facebook to represent non-Libyan spouses of Libyans, women such as my mother who has been married for almost 40 years to my Libyan father yet still does not have the right to own property. I called the group Equal Rights for Foreign Spouses of Libyans and our numbers quickly rose. In a matter of a month, we had over 200 members. I received messages and emails from women married to Libyans and from Libyan women married to non-Libyans and all encouraged me to proceed.
The law in Libya states that a non-Libyan cannot own property or own a business in Libya and there is no provision for the non-Libyan spouses of Libyans. In addition to this, these spouses cannot freely travel in and out of Libya without going through a rigorous visa process.
Why should spouses be restricted in their movements because of the simple fact that they were not originally Libyan? In some parts of the world, such laws would be considered prejudice and discrimination against non-Libyan spouses.
Many of these women married their husbands not knowing how their lives would change once they moved to Libya with their families. These women are brave. They often leave everything they know to move to another country to make a new life, not infrequently against the wishes of their original families. They strive to embrace the complex culture and spirit of Libya only to be told, by law, that their sacrifices cannot ensure their future security. What would you do if you were in their situation, forced to be dependent upon the LIbyan family in a time of crisis and unable to control your destiny? What of the women who didn’t have children? Who will support them?
In this day and age of the global community, such practices are out of date and not consistent with recognized human rights and something has to be done about them.
Fran is originally from Ireland and has been married to her Libyan husband for three years. When she moved to Libya with her husband, she was embraced by her husband’s family as one of their own and they tried their best to make her welcome. She didn’t speak Arabic and was left with her family while her husband traveled for work but they worked with her.
“When I first arrived nearly 3 years ago, I did not speak Arabic. I had a few basic words but that was it – BASIC. My husband works away so for two months I was alone with my in-laws. Every effort was made to seek out an English speaker at the few gatherings I went to and at home, all in an effort to make me feel comfortable.”
“Words were taught to me patiently and with a kind, full-hearted smile. Even when I did make the faux pas of confusing the Arabic for strawberries with the word for knickers,” says Fran.
Some women, however, are not so lucky and face serious challenges such as marital problems and harassment from the community. Most of them have nowhere to turn. Women who have invested their love, time and efforts in building lives in Libya may find that they lack a support network and sometimes have no way to secure their rights to their property or children if things go wrong. They are not even protected under Libyan law.
There are people in Libya such as Libyan Lawyer Azza Maghur who recognize the injustice these families face and who has acted non-stop since 2006 to try and change the laws regarding this problem. These heroes need our support and these wonderful strong women should not be treated as second class citizens when they clearly are not.
My hope is that the law will change to allow non-Libyan-born spouses to have the same rights as any Libyan man’s wife; the right to own property, the right to own a business and the right to the dignity that changing the law would bring. As a child of such a union I have seen and heard all kinds of justifications for allowing the current law to stand as it is, but I still believe in the Libyan population’s ability to embrace this issue and see that we cannot move forward through discrimination. Libya faces so many challenges and Libya has sacrificed for that freedom and so have these families, these Libyan families. [/restrict]