Women in Libya

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Gender equality and social institutions in Libya

Most national legislation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya supports equal rights for men and women, but many legal provisions that would ensure equality have yet to be effectively enforced, according to the Social Institutions & Gender Index.

The social position of Libyan women is inferior to that of men, and deeply rooted patriarchal values and traditions still persist. It can be observed, however, that the level of freedom and equality women experience rises in relation to the social class to which they belong.

Efforts to improve the status of women in Libya have been hampered by two major factors: it is illegal to establish women's rights groups that are independent of the state, and individuals (both women and men) are subject to abuse and torture if they are suspected to sympathize with government opposition groups.

Family Code:

Women in Libya face several inequalities in regard to family matters. They often find themselves at a disadvantage because Libya's Family Code, which is partly based on the Maliki school of Sunni Islam, contains provisions that discriminate against women.

The legal age of marriage is 20 years for both men and women in Libya, but judges can grant permission for marriage at an earlier age. Although marriages are to be based upon mutual consent, arranged marriages do occur in rural areas. According to a 2004 United Nations report, the occurrence of early marriage has declined in recent decades: only 1 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age in Libya were married, divorced or widowed.

Polygamy is legal in Libya, but relatively uncommon. Islamic Sharia allows Muslim men to take as many as four wives. Before legal permission is granted for second, third or fourth marriages, Libyan Family Code requires that men secure the consent of their first wives and prove their ability to support more than one wife.

In regard to parental authority, a study by Uhlman reports that Islamic law holds the father as the natural guardian of his children; the mother is regarded as the physical custodian. In the event of divorce, the Libyan Family Code grants initial custody to the mother, followed by her mother, then the father and thereafter his mother. Women cannot confer citizenship to children born to a non-Libyan father.

Islamic law provides for detailed and complex calculations of inheritance shares. Woman may inherit from their father, mother, husband or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members. However, their share is generally smaller than that to which men are entitled. Daughters, for example, inherit only half as much as sons. This is typically justified by the argument that women have no financial responsibility towards their husbands and children.

Physical Integrity:

Libyan women have a relatively low level of protection in terms of physical integrity. The most common form of violence against women in Libya is domestic violence, although its actual prevalence is unknown due to underreporting. To date, there are no laws beyond the general Criminal Code to protect the victim or penalize the perpetrator (most often the husband) and the law does not recognize the concept of spousal rape. As a result, most incidents are kept private within the family.

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is a general practice, but a report by Pargeter indicates it is believed to still occur among some nomadic tribes and in remote rural areas.

With a sex ratio in favor of men, Libya appears to be a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Ownership Rights:

Women in Libya have a substantial degree of financial autonomy, but again face restrictions due to social norms and traditions. Theoretically, they have equal legal rights to access to land and access to property other than land, but often face difficulty in retaining ownership or actual control of such assets.

The same is true for financial assets: women have the legal right to access to bank loans (without their husbands' consent) and to enter into various forms of financial contracts. In most cases, husbands or fathers take responsibility for any financial undertakings and commitments.

Civil Liberties:

Women's civil liberty in Libya remains low. There are no legal restrictions on women's freedom of movement, but societal norms can limit their right to move freely, especially in the evenings or in rural areas where traditional values are more likely to persist. In general, women do not travel alone or without the permission of their husbands or families. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reports that women are banned from some occupations that are deemed as “hard, dangerous or otherwise unsuited to their nature and biological make-up”. Night work is also discouraged or prohibited.

Women in Libya enjoy freedom of dress, but the majority wear a veil in public (this is not necessarily the case in bigger cities). Many women choose to wear a veil for religious beliefs; others do so in response to social pressure. The niqab, a veil that covers the whole face except for the eyes, is less common.

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