You might not expect women’s groups to welcome the posting of a video depicting a rape on You Tube – but Libyan feminists did just that last week.
The video – quickly taken down – showed the rape of a young female student from Benghazi University. Women’s groups and activists in Libya say the crime would have remained hidden had the video not been posted. Now the groups are demanding justice and that the perpetrators are brought to trial. They are also calling for a broader discussion about how rape victims are treated.
Hypocrisy and cowardice
Women are usually treated as if they are to blame, say activists, and they hope the internet video can lead to change.
"Instead of demanding trial and punishment for the perpetrators, the victim is all too often accused of being complicit with the rapists. What a hypocritical and cowardly community we live in," says Libyan writer Intisar Bouraoui.
The poet Fatima Mahmod also wrote on the issue: "There is no manliness regarding the rape of women ... there is only a festering distorted masculinity... surviving on a masculine culture seeping its poison into minds and souls. When women were raped by fighters from the militias of Gaddafi and his sons, civil society organisations abroad and international human rights commissions denounced the crimes, but civil society in Libya remained silent.”
“And some statements were even issued to cover up, deny and hide the crimes in order to preserve the [reputation] of the males of cities where women were raped!”
Conservatism, religion and honour play a major role in attitudes towards rape. The women’s groups point to cases during the Gaddafi regime when some women fled to Tunisia to escape male family members who believed the shame of having a rape victim within their family could only be wiped out by murdering her.
Women’s groups in Benghazi and Tripoli are now exchanging information on the ‘YouTube rape case', hoping they can challenge these conservative attitudes. As dramatic and horrific as the posting of the video was, they see it as a means of sparking a discussion. The Libyan women point to a recent case in Tunisia in which the rape of a woman by a soldier became a national scandal – they hope that a similar debate and nationwide condemnation can follow the case in Libya.
The posting of the video of the rape has also attracted comments from activists throughout the Arab world. "I watched the video on the Facebook pages; I did not have the courage to publish it. The video depicts a case of rape of a Libyan girl, the photographer tried not to show her face. The face of the rapist is clearly visible, uttering ugly words! I felt humiliation, debasement, and oppression. The act of rape is a privileged masculine action and a shocking crime that even capital punishment is not enough for the perpetrator. The raped woman should not be punished twice by compelling her to marry this villain. This would constitute a premeditated crime," said the well-known Moroccan poet and feminist activist Aisha Al Maghribi.
“This is a form of contempt and enslavement for women,” she added.
This article was originally published by RNW’s Arabic Desk and was re-posted on a number of leading Libyan and other Arab region sites.