Arab Spring puts women's rights in the spotlight

Tue Dec 20, 2011 9:48am EST
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - At a pre-wedding evening party in central Tripoli, a group of Libyan women sing traditional songs to the beat of a drum as they prepare to apply henna to the bride's hands and feet.

Clapping her hands to the music as she waited for the bride to appear, 23-year-old Sarah Burruin said she has just one wish for women in the new Libya.

"I want women to be equal," the engineering student said. "Whatever men do, I want women to be able to do it too. This is our time."

In post-revolution Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, women are exploring what the Arab Spring means for them.

Since long-time leaders were toppled in the three north African states, many -- not least in the West -- fret the power vacuum will leave the door open for Islamist groups to take power and force changes that will damage women's rights.

In Tunisia Islamists have already risen to power while in Egypt, they are leading staggered elections and have pledged to govern by Islamic laws.

In Libya, National Transitional Council (NTC) chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil alarmed many when he pledged to uphold Islamic law and ease polygamy rules in a speech to mark Libya's "liberation" from Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule, though he has since played down any suggestion of radical Islamist rule.

"I think where the Islamic laws will eventually bite is the rights of women. They already have declared (in Libya) that polygamy rules will be relaxed and who knows where that is going to go," said Laleh Khalili, senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of London.   Continued...

<p>A Libyan woman is reflected in a mirror as she looks at headscarves displayed on plastic models at a market stall in central Tripoli in this November 28, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/Files</p>