The absurdity of the women travel ban in Libya

The situation in Libya has been and continues to be a complex play of political agreements, various personalities and governments separating East and West Libya.

Over the weekend, the Eastern part of Libya, controlled by the unrecognised government in Al Bayda, and led by the military under the leadership of Khalifa Heftir, who worked with Gadaffi during his reign of power issued a ban on women under the age of 60 from travelling alone without a chaperone according to local military leader Abdelrazzak Al-Naduri.

It is interesting that women and their right to free movement was the initial issue of target, especially for a military leadership which based much of it’s power on the idea that they were fighting and getting rid of ‘Islamists’ in the country.

Although it’s been claimed that the ban has no religious motivations behind it, the idea of needing a ‘mahram’ or guardian while travelling is very much a religious idea, implemented mainly in Saudi for women travelling.

According to the general who issued this ban, women were seen as a security threat to the country, as they were apparently being used by foreign intelligence services. Insultingly, this was especially directed at women who traveled alone for civil society activities through the one remaining functional airport in Eastern Libya.

For many women’s rights activists in and out of the country, this was simply another way to control women in Libya, and restrict their movement and freedoms as well as a way to appease the cultural conservatism within the region.

Due to pressures from across the country at the absurdity of such a ban, with much ridicule at it’s implementation, with some men selling themselves as ‘mahrams’ or guardians outside the airport, and a version of Enrique Iglesias ‘Hero’ turned into ‘I will be your mahram baby’. A freeze was then agreed with the hopes of getting rid of the ban all together.

However, on another twist to the whole travel ban fiasco, the paranoia of the Eastern leadership, has now led to a decision to ban men and women between 18 and 45 from travelling without permission. According to Abdelrazzak Al-Naduri, this time the ban was to prevent anyone joining terrorist organisations abroad.

There has been no real information provided as to how you obtain permission, and who would be agreed or denied a permit to travel or what the criteria would be. No doubt other changes will be made, as the freedom of movement of Libyans in the East becomes a concern.

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