An Oil Boom, Women, and Changing Traditions

Fikry, Mona. 1978. “An Oil Boom, Women, and Changing Traditions: A study of Libyan women in Benghazi.” In Folklore in the Modern World, ed. R. Dorson. Mouton: The Hague, pp. 65–76. [PDF]

This is an article about the modernization of Libya after the discovery of oil and its effects on the lives and roles of women in Benghazi. The article discusses in particular the suppression of the social and cultural lives of women in connection with modernizing forces, such as mass media, and draws attention to the declining visibility of, and place for, folklore and oral literature–which except for traditional poetry was mostly transmitted and performed by women. Fikry notes, for example, that:

“Tale-telling, called khurrafat in Libya, used to be an essential part of family entertainment in towns, villages, and tents, but in the city it has now all but disappeared to be replaced by television. The time that young children spent listening to tales is now spent studying, reading magazines, or watching television. Rare are the occasions when tales are told and few are the young urban women who know any tales to tell. Even the special night devoted to tale-telling during the wedding celebration is now firmly linked with the past.”

 

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Gender and state-building in Libya

Although this blog shies away from contributing even more noise to the (often incoherent) Western din that is writing on politics in modern Libya, it is important to draw attention to less common but absolutely necessary approaches to any topic within Libyan studies. Here is a recent article on the politics of gender and inclusion by the well-known scholar and activist, Zahra’ Langhi (whom we’ve already mentioned here), co-founder of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace.

Zahra’ Langhi. “Gender and state-building in Libya: towards a politics of inclusion.” Journal of North African Studies 19/2 (2014), pp. 200-210.

Abstract: The Libyan Revolution marks a watershed moment in Libyan history and more specifically in the history of women’s participation in the public space. Women were at the forefront of the demonstrations as protesters, medical workers, and aid providers, as well as organising behind the scenes and in the diaspora calling for political change and a just inclusive transition to democracy. However, they have been systematically excluded from the public sphere facing intense de-politicisation and silencing at a crucial moment in their national political transformation process. The Libyan Revolution appears here, similar to other Arab revolutions, to present a ‘gender paradox’. On one hand, women are the politically empowered agents of the Revolution and change. On the other hand, they are the victims of a new kind of political violence and exclusion. Thus, there is a need to address women’s participation in the public sphere from a different approach than the usual ‘women’s empowerment’ approach. The suggested approach here is a more inclusive participatory integrated one of political and normative frameworks. Women’s role should not be limited to defending women’s rights issues or just their formal numerical representation in decision-making bodies. Rather they should struggle to become influential shapers of a new discourse of politics of inclusion which rests upon inclusive state-building, gender-equitable institutional reform, inclusive social transformation, demilitarisation and peace-building.

*For an electronic version of the article, contact me.

Women’s Bodies in Post-Revolution Libya: Control and Resistance

“Women’s Bodies in Post-Revolution Libya: Control and Resistance” by Sahar Mediha Elnaas and Nicola Pratt. In Rethinking Gender in Revolutions and Resistance: Lessons from the Arab World. London: Zed Books, 2015.

“Ever since the uprisings that swept the Arab world, the role of Arab women in political transformations received unprecedented media attention. The copious commentary, however, has yet to result in any serious study of the gender dynamics of political upheaval.

Rethinking Gender in Revolutions and Resistance is the first book to analyse the interplay between moments of sociopolitical transformation, emerging subjectivities and the different modes of women’s agency in forging new gender norms in the Arab world. Written by scholars and activists from the countries affected, including Paletine, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, this is an important addition to Middle Eastern gender studies.”

Read a review and discussion of the book at Jadaliyya.