Op-Ed: Libyan Women; The Guardians of Tradition
By Esra Bengizi.
8 March 2021:
International Women’s Day is dedicated to the social, cultural, political, academic and economic achievements and contributions of women and young girls. Every day, Libyan women continue to shape and carry our society in more ways than we can imagine. Despite the many challenges and barriers that Libyan women face, they continue to maintain their eloquence and strength. The importance of women in the work and domestic sphere is undeniable and crucial. And as we continue to recognize their work and achievements, we should also acknowledge that Libyan women are the guardians of tradition and culture.
When I think about Libyan culture, I envision my mom in the kitchen making aseeda, the delicious Libyan couscous on Friday’s, the elaborate and beautiful patterns of Henna during celebrations and the exquisite, glamorous badla arbiya. I picture my grandmother’s facial tattoos that served as a stamp, marking her Libyan identity. I think of my mother telling me stories of our family and teaching me how to speak Arabic amongst many other things. When I think about being Libyan, I think about the community of women who raised me and taught me about my culture and identity.
As I grow older, I begin to realize that Libyan women have engraved their mark on every aspect of Libyan society. From the language, to the food, fashion and work place, Libyan women play an essential role in defining what it means to be Libyan. Witnessing many accomplished Libyan women in the workforce opened my eyes to how powerful Libyan women are. Despite the social pressures and stigmas, Libyan women are breaking barriers and demonstrating that for those who choose to do both; a work-life balance is definitely achievable. To the world, Libyan women are a mystery, hidden in the shadows as the men have been prevalent leaders in society. But it is the women who are the real role models and influencers, having a significant impact on Libyan culture.
As the world begins to see more women representation, Libyan women are also fighting for their voice to be heard. From protesting alongside men during the 2011 revolution to occupying positions in government, it is evident that these women are hungry for change. Gendered discrimination continues to inhibit women, but slowly and silently we are seeing Libyan women challenge the status-quo.
Local customs and traditions are transforming, but in order to eliminate systemic barriers to ensure Libyan women are realizing their full potential, it is crucial that we continue to support their endeavours and advocate for gender equality and representation. When we empower women, our society will also thrive but if we fail to tackle these ongoing issues surrounding gender inequality, our society will continue to face several challenges.
We must celebrate all the women who take on incredible challenges and whose stories and work are shaping Libyan culture. Every woman should be able to lead a life that she wishes to lead, unconstrained by harmful and oppressive customs and norms. As Libyan women are a beacon of hope; paving the way for others and demonstrating that they have always been and continue to be leaders in our society.
As I grow older and the responsibility of sharing my culture and knowledge with the next generation nears, I realize it is up to me and my generation to redefine what being Libyan is about. This is why it is critical for us as Libyans to acknowledge that we are part of a beautiful culture, with a very rich history and so much potential to thrive. However, there are many harmful customs and cultural norms that inhibit us from reaching this potential. Coming together as a community to empower women will establish new traditions and norms that will empower the next generation and create positive change.
Esra Bengizi was born in Benghazi, Libya and immigrated to Toronto, Canada as a child. She is a PhD student at the University of Toronto where her research interests are in post-colonial and feminist studies. Most of her academic and personal work are centred around the topics of social justice and women empowerment.
The views in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Libya Herald.
This article was contributed by the writer as part of a series of pieces by several Libyan females, in and outside Libya, invited by Libya Herald to reflect on International Women’s Day – ten years on from Libya’s 2011 February revolution.