Libya’s new leader calls for civil state

The New York Times reports:

Aisha Gdour, a school psychologist, smuggled bullets in her brown leather handbag. Fatima Bredan, a hairdresser, tended wounded rebels. Hweida Shibadi, a family lawyer, helped NATO find airstrike targets. And Amal Bashir, an art teacher, used a secret code to collect orders for munitions: Small-caliber rounds were called “pins,” larger rounds were “nails.” A “bottle of milk” meant a Kalashnikov.

In the Libyan rebels’ unlikely victory over Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, women did far more than send sons and husbands to the front. They hid fighters and cooked them meals. They sewed flags, collected money, contacted journalists. They ran guns and, in a few cases, used them. The six-month uprising against Colonel Qaddafi has propelled women in this traditional society into roles they never imagined. And now, though they already face obstacles to preserving their influence, many women never want to go back.

“Maybe I can be the new president or the mayor,” Ms. Gdour, 44, said Monday afternoon as she savored victory with other members of her rebel cell. They are three women who under the old government ran an underground charity that they transformed into a pipeline for rebel arms.

But in the emerging new Libya, women are so far almost invisible in the leadership. Libya’s 45-member Transitional National Council includes just one woman. The council’s headquarters does not have a women’s bathroom.

In neighboring Egypt, women have had trouble preserving gains from their own revolution. And in his exceedingly eccentric way, Colonel Qaddafi may have had a more expansive view of appropriate female behavior than some conservative Libyan families.

Still, much as Rosie the Riveter irreversibly changed the lives of American women after World War II, Libyan women say their war effort established facts on the ground that cannot be easily undone. Women from many walks of life are knitting small rebel support cells into larger networks, brainstorming what they can do next to help build a post-Qaddafi Libya.

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