Under the constraints and policies of the current lockdown imposed by most countries in the world, including Libya of course, due to the Corona pandemic, the problem of domestic or marital violence emerged at a bigger scale than ever before in this country, as many women became susceptible to the danger of violence, beating and punishment. In many cases, this amounted to premeditated murder and slaying.Libya is imposing today a package of measures to limit the spread of this virus in a country torn by civil conflicts and wars, as if a lethal and dangerous virus to aggravate current dilemmas was all that was needed. These measures were manifested in imposing a conditioned 24-hour curfew for 10 consecutive days. This aggravated the feeling of panic in streets and markets. People were gripped by the fear of food, medicine, and daily needs running out. This obsession with fear, however, soon infiltrated families and spread inside Libyan households at this difficult time.
Three Murders in One Week!
In March, it was reported that 3 murders in Libya claimed the lives of three women from different cities and regions, two of whom were killed by their husbands, while the third was killed by her father and his wife. These murders happened against a pure customary background that aims to usurp a woman’s right of life and self-determination throughout all her life stages and social classes. The first victim Hdyia Abd al-Malek Addursi, 38, a mother of three and pregnant with a fourth, was slayed by her husband at her home in the village of Zawiyat al Arqub (north east of Libya). It is yet a mystery why he committed such a crime. In this context, his family and relatives tried to justify his act by claiming that he is possessed (by magic practised upon him) and that he is under the influence of an invisible power that controlled his behaviour and manners, as such to be classified under the category of psychiatric or mental patient. Hence, they guaranteed him, in this case, impunity and escape from punishment and accountability.
The second victim is the young woman Aya al-Faitury, 24, whose marriage was only four moths old. Her husband kept on beating her up and abusing her for months in a row till when the incident took place, which resulted in her death by a Kalashnikov bullet that landed in her chest in the wake of a heated argument between them. This incident happened in Al-Sarraj neighborhood in Tripoli, where the husband denied murdering his wife by claiming that the victim only committed suicide, a claim doubted by the forensic teams and the report they issued, which proved that the victim was subjected to sustained beating and violence, and that the husband was the main perpetrator. Investigation is still underway.
The situation of the third victim is totally different from the previous two, a 10-year old girl Bara’a Omran from Msallata, killed by her father, 35, after he beat her up severely till she died, and left her outdoors without shelter, food or drink for several days until her body got skinny and unable to endure hunger and torture. The Security Directorate in the city, in co-operation with criminal investigation teams, arrested her father, who claimed that she fell from a great height. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the child was subjected to all kinds of domestic violence and torture by her father and his wife, who confessed, in the course of ongoing investigation, that she committed this act in collaboration with the father.
Women in Libya, unlike everywhere else, are leading an exceptional life. What with the woes of war on the ground to the gripping health fears of corona, to the state of yet covert ongoing daily wars spoken of by nobody (the war of silent domestic violence), the pain ignored by all and sundry. However, these were not the first reported incidents of domestic violence and premeditated killing by the families and husbands of the victims even before the onset of corona pandemic, which helped to aggravate the cases of violence in Libya. Only last year, the victim Farah al-Khuder, 19, was killed by her husband and his brother following the victim’s demand to visit her parents place, forbidden to take such a step for years as a result of problems that arose between the family and the husband, and also following a demand by her to attend her brother’s wedding. This sparked a heated debate between the couple at the end of which she was murdered by her husband. In the beginning of the current year, in Ajdabiya city, Masora al-Su’aiti likewise passed away in the wake of her husband’s severe beating of her. This type of crime came to be much in vogue in Libyan towns and villages, a fact uncounted by governmental or non-governmental bodies and organizations but, in most cases, hushed up, overlooked, or otherwise justified by pretexts and motives far from being logical and rational, with a view to find an excuse for the perpetrator’s heinous act.
We got in touch with the Libyan Ministry of Social Affairs in Tripoli. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any numbers to share with us. Even the very office responsible for receiving complaints inside the ministry didn’t have any data or statistics for this year or, at least, the previous one.
Till today, a clear verdict is yet to be issued against the perpetrators. There is a sort of compliance with the victims’ families and seeking excuses for the guilty as a sort of an act of God and the perpetrators are pardoned for being possessed and irrational in their behaviour, or for being guards and protectors of their wives’ honour. The deliberate turn of a blind eye by the media and journalism, nay even the social authority in Libya, to these crimes, is an indirect recognition of endorsing such a crime.
The Point of No Return
In a hurried telephone conversation with a woman subjected to violence still living with her abuser (husband) inside the house, she could barely snatch a few minutes to talk to me. The woman Nadia Othman, a housewife in her forties and a mother of one daughter, summarised her situation in three distinct and rapidly-delivered sentences, namely her financial and social inability of independence and demand of a divorce from her husband for the simple reason that he would not agree to divorce her easily and give her all her post-divorce legal rights. As such, it’s so difficult for her to keep going on with her life in case they separated. Afterwards, she tried to find him some excuses citing his patience for her inability to bear any children throughout this period; and she thanks God because he abstained from marrying another. Later, Nadia wondered saying: “which family will accept their divorced daughter’s return along with a teenaged girl, which will, undoubtedly, double up their burden?” Finally, Nadia, trying to cut short her phone call she was making from the rooftop of her house, said:
“In the past the number of cases of beating and abuse was a lot less than now as he was a technician working for eight hours a day, which exhausted him during working days. However, today, he enjoys hurting me emotionally and physically day and night as if “I’m the reason behind the decisions of curfew and the ban on going out of home”… the call ended.
Many women, the likes of Nadia, feel that returning to their lives before marriage is so difficult, nay almost impossible, as they have no legal or social guarantor. According to human rights activist and legal adviser, Khadija Albu’aeshy, in her statement on Tanweer Movement platform: The state of Libya does not provide safe havens for battered women, nor does it provide them with safe homes that cannot be targeted or reached. Consequently, this will exacerbate violence against women. Also, the psychological and social support offered by civil society organizations is no longer sufficient, nay the situation worsened for the fact that those women kept company with the sources of their abuse at home 24/7 amid circumstances of lockdown and curfew measures applied in Libya.
In this context, Ms. Khadija Albu’aeshy advocates a mechanism from all ministries to stop this injustice and violence against women. It is not just receiving complaints via hot lines and women police, but, there should rather be a complete mechanism to be made available by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as the Ministry of Labour to secure safe homes, job opportunities, full social and mental support for those women in order for them to be capable of production and integration in society with full freedom and independency.
The Vicious Circle of Violence
In this regard, Prof. Madiha Alna’as, a researcher and professor of gender sciences at Exeter University, UK, imputes the reasons of domestic violence nowadays to the fact that millions are compelled to stay indoors for ongoing daily periods. Spending long hours at home, with the victim and abuser keeping company of each other, leads to an increase in provocation and squabbles, hence the abuser will always search for what she calls a “punching bag” to vent out his anger and distress, which he used to vent out in outdoor and dynamic activities.
She goes on to say: the reason for the increase of violence which spiked to dangerous rates, is the victim’s lack of communication with the outside world, like paying familial visits, going out for work, shopping, hairdresser etc…This, more often than not, puts her in isolation when it becomes difficult to ask others for help to save her and take her away from her abuser. Despite the diversity of violence from verbal and physical to workplace and sexual, all sorts of violence have a negative effect on the woman’s psychological health. If she is a woman worker, this will greatly affect her ability of production, innovation and development, which will have a long-term effect on the society as well. If she isn’t a woman worker, she is eventually a mother, a sister and a wife; hence, this will create a state of mental instability which will be reflected on the way of educating and upbringing of her children and all those around her. Finally, practising such relentless violence on a woman may lead her to attempt committing suicide, and she may succeed in doing so.
“Any country that lacks basic services for victims and survivors of violence is a country susceptible, in this exceptional time, more than any other country to violence”.
She adds: “countries plagued with the spread of wars and conflicts like Libya are incubators of social violence; they even help to exacerbate it. As such, Libyan women are more vulnerable to such type of violence than others dwelling in regions that enjoy stability and security against this kind of violence. This makes their situation more fragile, especially with the absence of any form of genuine and effective relief, past and present”.