Conditions of Women
Women in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya have significant opportunities in education and employment, but they still face substantial social discrimination. In the initial period following the 1969 coup that brought President Qadhafi’s government to power, the new leaders supported a return to traditional Islamic values. Qadhafi advocated the expansion of Islamic doctrine as the basis for Libya’s civil and criminal code. But as the regime developed in the mid 1970s, Qadhafi turned away from this doctrine and sought to implement his own personal revolutionary vision for the nation. This vision, as embodied in the three volumes of the Green Book, advocated social equality for men and women. Women were mobilized in the military and in the political system of revolutionary councils in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The government provides free health care and education to all Libyan citizens. The World Bank estimated that nearly 100% of all boys and girls were enrolled in primary education by 1998. In 2002, adult female illiteracy had fallen to 29% from 35% in 1998, though it continues to exceed illiteracy among men at 10%. Women comprise 22% of the labor force, though substantial discrimination still exists in the workplace. Men and women are guaranteed equality under the law, but lack of enforcement has led to continued social inequality.
Law of Personal Status
During the liberalization period of the late 1980s, Qadhafi publicly challenged tenets of Islamic belief such as the obligation of women to travel with a male guardian and female veiling (hijab). But by the mid 1990s, the Qadhafi government had begun to reverse its stance again, supporting a larger role for Islam in the law. To a large extent, these positions seem designed to pre-empt the regime’s Islamic opposition. Hence, it is difficult to ascertain a clear government stance on the status of women in public life.
The government has established the Department of Women’s Affairs as part of the secretariat of the General People’s Congress, the national legislative body. Overseen by an Assistant Secretary of the General People’s Committee, the Department collects data and oversees the integration of women into all spheres of public life. The government has also established the General Union of Women’s Associations as a network of non-governmental organizations that address women’s employment needs.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
The Libyan government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in May of 1989 with reservations for conflicts with Islamic law. These reservations extend to four areas of the personal status code: property rights, marriage, divorce, and parental rights.
Clear differences can be observed in Libyan women across generational lines. Women who were born before the 1969 revolution tend to stay in the home and have markedly lower education level than their younger counterparts. Women under the age of 35 were much more likely to receive a public education and show much higher rates of participation in the public sphere.