Monday, August 24, 2020

The Humanitarian Cost of Libyan Civil War

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Anti-Gaddafi rebels near Ras Lanuf, Libya March 8, 2011 | Source: BRQ Network, via Flickr

Ever since the people of Libya toppled the long reigning dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 during the Arab spring, the country is going through internal turmoil and civil wars. The ongoing power struggle between two major factions: the UN-backed General National Accord (GNA) government and the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its associated House of Representatives is the face of the current phase of Libyan civil war.

A man who recently entered into Tunisia from Libya is given food at a transit camp on March 01, 2011 in Ras Jdir, Tunisia | Source: BRQ Network, via Flickr

Libya has become a pawn in a great power game in which many Middle-Eastern and Western countries have put their resources behind different factions of civil war. These countries have poured in military hardware, mercenaries and diplomatic support to “internationalize” the tribal and political conflict of Libya.

Libyan men walk by burned vehicles while visiting the stormed al-Katiba base in Benghazi, Libya | Source: BRQ Network, via Flickr

France and Italy have seen an opening to assert their colonial-era influence which was on the wane after Colonel Gaddafi took the reign of the country. UAE, Turkey, and Russia on the other hand are trying to fish in the trouble waters of Libya by actively aiding in the armed conflict. The European Union has allied with Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants trying to sail for Europe and also funding prison camps for refugees to prevent them from reaching Europe through Libya.

The UNHCR reported that it registered almost 50,000 migrants in Libya in 2019. The World Food Programme estimates that over four hundred thousand people got displaced and also lost their sources of income due the ongoing conflict. The proportion of people with access to electricity has been steadily declining, and as little as 26.11% has access to basic and safe sanitation services. There are almost 3 million vulnerable people, which includes 55% women and children need “some form of humanitarian assistance.”

In January 2020 the United Nations released a statement particularly concerning the “dire situation” in Libya for tens of thousands of children. This includes those internally displaced after fleeing their homes, hundreds of thousands of children facing school shutdowns, and refugee and migrant children especially those being held in detention centres. The statement also points out that attacks on essential health facilities as well as water and waste management systems have “limited access to protection and essential services.”

The lifeline of Libyan economy is its oil industry which has taken a major hit during the civil war. It is estimated that Libya has lost more than $502 million in just 10-day period in January 2020 when major oil fields and production facilities were shut down due to the ongoing conflict. Most of the other business sectors are barely functioning in Libya.

The healthcare infrastructure of Libya was nearly destroyed during the last ten years and is staring at near-certain doom due to the prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic. The risk of community outbreaks and the inability of the healthcare system to handle this inevitability is a major risk for the country. Refugee camps and detention centers are more prone to the spread of pandemic as it is nearly impossible to maintain basic hygiene and social distancing over there.

While the warring sides in the civil wars have announced curfews and closures of restaurants, no official ceasefire has been announced, despite requests of the UN for the same. In fact, fighting has been documented to have continued well into March 2020 and April 2020 in which densely populated civilian areas, as well as health facilities have been targeted.

For the people of Libya, this has meant going from living under the stable but dictatorial rule of Colonel Gaddafi which provided a fairly decent civic infrastructure to being caught in brutal crossfire between a recognised government and a renegade military commander, which has destroyed the social and civic infrastructure of the country and impoverished the citizens.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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