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Libya Table of Contents


Women in the Armed Forces


Women have played a significant role in Qadhafi's military build-up

Qadhafi has persistently sought to usher in a policy of direct participation by women in national defense. His efforts, which have been resisted by conservative elements of Libyan society and apparently by most young women as well, derived from his argument that women of the Arab world live in a subjugated state and must be liberated from oppression and feudalism. Qadhafi viewed practices governing a woman's role in society and her legal rights as disrespectful, reactionary, and contrary to the Quran (see The Traditional View of Men and Women , ch. 2).

Speaking at a rally in Tripoli in 1978, Qadhafi said that the goal of a totally armed people would be fully realized "when all Libyans--men and women--have been trained in an organized, modern fashion." Addressing in the same speech the political and religious problems that a full-fledged military role for women presented in Islamic Libya, Qadhafi declared that this "is not against religion, not against marriage, not against ethics."

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that women were to be conscripted along with men, but this plan apparently was not fully implemented. A women's army college opened in Tripoli in 1979, training volunteers aged thirteen to seventeen in basic military subjects and the use of various weapons. A total of 7,000 students had passed through the academy by 1983. Some female pilots and naval recruits had reportedly also been enlisted. Nevertheless, the notion of women as soldiers remained unpopular. Some observers believed that many of the students had been coerced into entering the academy. The institution was closed in November 1983, reportedly after students ripped down fences to escape and return to their homes.

Nonetheless, the new legislation introduced in February 1984 covering universal military service specifically included women. When the GPC took the almost unprecedented step of rejecting the proposal, Qadhafi saw this as evidence of lingering reactionary attitudes in a society that had not whole heartedly accepted the revolution. "Spontaneous demonstrations" of young women demanding the right to engage in military service were organized. In a speech on March 12, 1984, Qadhafi announced that popular demand made it necessary to introduce compulsory military service for all in spite of the CPC's action. After the Libyan retreat from Chad in March 1987, there were indications that women had served there in administrative positions.

The women's military academy was not reopened, however, and no immediate steps were taken to institute full-time military service for women. Training was apparently to remain an adjunct to high school and university studies. Even so, there was evidence that the program was not being resolutely enforced. As late as April 1986, the Libyan press mentioned complaints over the delays and haphazard nature of the training programs at the Zlitan Women Teachers' Institute, apparently owing to the indifference of local military authorities.

Data as of 1987