By: Nadia Hamed-Maddox.
Tripoli, 9 May:
The Arab and Muslim world has been perceived as treating women differently and/or lesser than the men . . .[restrict]in the community. Not affording them equal rights under the law as males. Most Libyans would argue that Libya is one of the most liberal Arab/Muslim countries when it comes to women’s rights, but there are still areas where the laws for women could be improved. The time for these changes is now.
Did you know that Libyan women have to obtain permission from the Libyan Government to marry a non-Libyan; otherwise, the marriage is not legally binding in Libya. If a Libyan woman married a non-Libyan without permission of the government the marriage would be considered illegitimate and so will any children born to the union.
Further to that, even if the marriage has been approved through the proper channels, any children in these families will not be given Libyan citizenship. Not even when the mother is Libyan, not even if the children were born in and are residents of Libya, not even when Libya is the only home that some of these children have ever known. The children would have to have a visa to be in Libya and a visa to travel in and out of Libya. The hypocrisy stems from the fact that Libyan men are not held to the same rules and standards.
I spoke to a woman named Noor. Noor is Libyan and her husband is Egyptian. They have two children and are currently living in the U.S. Noor went through the process of registering for permission to marry her Egyptian fiancé 5 years ago and was distressed when she realized how invasive the process was going to be. She recalled being disrespected by the people in the government office where she applied.
According to her experience and the experience of other woman I spoke with the actual approval was up to the whims of the person working in the office and not really based on any guidelines or rules. This means that approval could be denied because someone in the office didn’t personally approve of these women’s choices. Meaning the process is opened up to corruption and bribery.
This law serves to isolate Libyan women from their culture and families. Although some people would argue that Libyan women should not marry anyone that is not Libyan, this belief would be stemmed from personal beliefs of that person as there is no moral or religious reason a Libyan woman should not legally be able to marry a non-Libyan. There is an additional strain of the social stigma of a Libyan woman marrying a non-Libyan so the process should be streamlined, made equivalent to the rules of Libyan male marriage criteria and free of shame or humiliation. This effects the Libyan woman’s ability to find a safe haven in Libya in the case her husband died or in the case of a divorce because they cannot get family books.
After corresponding with Asma via an on-line interview I knew that the situation was worse than I thought. Asma, like many other Libyans, was excited at the prospect of registering to vote for the first time ever. When she sent went to register to vote with her father, they didn’t allow her to register saying that they didn’t have any criteria for Libyan woman married to non-Libyans even though she had her Libyan passport with her.
“I left the place feeling so deeply left out, profoundly hurt. The only reason I don’t have a (Kutaib 3alya) Family Book is that I am not a man and consequently no rights what so ever.”
Even when her father went to the Government authorities to get copies of her birth certificate and other documents in order to get an ID, he discovered that all her documents had been changed to read, Nationality: Non-Libyan (Ajnabia). She had been labeled a foreigner by the government.
“In my own country I am now considered a foreigner because I am married to someone who is not Libyan. I was born and raised in Libya and this is where my family lives. My children love this country and consider themselves nothing but Libyans. What do they get in return?”
“A country that refers to them as foreigners?”, says Asma sadly.
This emphasizes the point that it is the children that are paying the ultimate price in a society that rejects them. They are not allowed free access to health care and education as other children are. This is not the case for Libyan men married to non-Libyans.
I spoke to another woman who lives in Tripoli, who I call Haneen. Haneen asked me to protect her privacy due to the sensitive nature of this subject. Haneen is a Libyan woman married to a non-Libyan and has a young son in public school. Each morning at the start of the day the children are asked to fill out an attendance sheet. At the top of the sheet is a section where the children are asked to list their nationality. Ahmed has lived in Libya all his life and considers himself Libyan all the way but has to face this question every morning.
“How discriminating! My son never mentions to his peers that he is not a Libyan citizen because he does not want to feel different, but everyday he hears the same question, “How come you are not Libyan?”” , says Haneen.
Heritage, nationality and identity are not traits only passed down from the father to the children they are also traits a women passes on to her children no matter who she is married to. Many Libyans recognize that it is time to changes these legal inequalities and as a result of pressure from women in Benghazi, the law regarding the nationality of children born to Libyan mothers and non-Libyan fathers was changed in early 2010. The new revision was to allow the children of Libyan mothers to automatically receive Libyan nationality but it was never implemented.
*This is one of the goals that Equal Rights for Foreign Spouses of Libyans works on.