The world might do its worst to malign him, but one virtue amongst many will stick out: that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi took good care of women. Not only did he support them, he also believed in their abilities and emancipation, moreover in a society where being a woman is not always fully appreciated.
For example, Gaddafi highlighted his female bodyguards as a symbol of his belief in women's emancipation and their role in the defence of their country.
Central to the Al Fateh revolution was the empowerment of women. The Jamahiriya government made efforts to advance female emancipation. It encouraged women to participate in Libya's political life and several cabinet posts were allocated to them. Women were also able to form associations.
Bouseyfi Kulthum, Libya's first female pilot, told that Gaddafi changed the social taboo that closed the space for women.
Under Jamahiriya government women also made great strides in employment, with improved access to education and acceptance of female paid employment. In 1970, a series of laws regulating female employment were passed, including equal pay for equal work.
By 2006, employment for Libyan women was estimated at 27%, a relatively high percentage for an Arab nation. Working mothers enjoyed a range of benefits designed to encourage them to continue working even after marriage and childbirth, including cash bonuses for the first child and free day care centres. A woman could retire at the age of 55, and she was entitled to a pension.
During the last decade of King Idris’ rule, females enrolled in primary education were only between 11-19%. However, in 1969, education was made a right. And by 1990, the figure stood at 48%. Women's enrollment in higher education stood at 8% in 1966, but reached 43% by 1996, equal to that of males.
Under Jamahiriya government child marriages were banned and the minimum legal age to marry placed at 18. Since 1973, Libyan women have had equal rights in obtaining a divorce. There were also gender-friendly women's laws passed on marriage and divorce.
Gaddafi established the Tripoli Women's Military Academy in 1979 to advance women's emancipation. The female soldiers passed through this academy.
"I promised my mother to improve the situation of women in Libya," he said at the time. His mother, a Bedouin tribeswoman born when Libya was an Italian colony, was unable to read or write.
"Without the leader, women in Libya would be nothing," Fatia, a 27-year-old bodyguard trainee in Tripoli, once told a researcher.
"He gave us life. I am ready to die for him. He is a father, a brother and a friend to whom you can confide. You have no idea how humble he is."
Facts on women in Libya
• Women are never confined to their homes while their husbands, fathers and brothers go to work. Gaddafi forbade restricting women's mobility.
• Women have full rights to drive cars (unlike their sisters in Saudi Arabia). Women also keep their passports. In several Arab countries, a woman’s husband holds her passport so she cannot travel outside of the country without his permission.
• No person can force a Libyan woman to marry any man.
• The Imams are expected to protect the woman from abuse by relatives.
• A Libyan woman can leave a marriage any time she chooses.
• If a woman enters a marriage with her own assets and the marriage ends, her husband cannot touch her assets. The same is true of the man's assets.
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