Libya is not ranked in the 2012 SIGI due to missing data for one or more SIGI variables. However, the country note below sets out information and data relating to variables where this is available information

The country was ranked 91 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

Libya is ranked in 64th (out of 187 countries) place in the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI), with a value of 0.760. The Gender Inequality Index value is 0.314 placing it at 51 out of 146 countries with data. Libya is not ranked under the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Libya’s has no unified family code.[19] Different laws relating to personal status are partly based on the Maliki school of Sunni Islam, and contain provisions that discriminate against women (as discussed below).[20] All decisions relating to personal status are decided by civil courts, as Gaddafi merged civil and Sharia courts when he came to power in 1969.[21]

The legal age of marriage is 20 years for both men and women in Libya, but judges can grant permission for marriage at an earlier age.[22] Early marriage appears to be very rare in Libya, with a significant decrease noted over the past 40 years.[23] Up-to-date figures are not available, but according to a 2004 United Nations report, in 1995, only 0.9% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age in Libya were married, divorced or widowed (compared to 39.6% in 1973).[24] Article 21 of the Great Green Charter forbids forced marriage, and under Law No.10 of 1984, a male guardian cannot refuse permission for a woman to marry.[25] Most marriages are arranged, and it is socially unacceptable to marry without parental consent.[26] According to Rashad et al, 43% of women questioned reported that they were married to a first cousin: these marriages may not necessarily be arranged, but may rather reflect the wishes of the marriage partners.[27] A non-Libyan man must convert to Islam in order to marry a Libyan woman, while a non-Libyan woman is not required to convert if she wishes to marry a Libyan man.[28] Sexual relations outside of marriage are a criminal offence.[29]

Polygamy is legal in Libya, but the existing wife/wives must grant their permission before the court before the marriage can take place.[30] According to Pargeter, polygamy is no longer common.[31]

Under Law No.10 of 1984, wives are placed under legal obligation to ensure the comfort and ‘repose’ of their husbands, and to assume all domestic responsibilities; in return, she is entitled to financial support from her husband, control over her own income and assets, and the right to be free from mental or physical violence.[32] In regard to parental authority, a study by Uhlman reports that Islamic law holds the father as the natural guardian of his children; the mother is regarded as the physical custodian.[33]  In the event of divorce, provided she is not deemed to be the cause of the divorce, by law, custody is awarded to the mother until daughters marry and sons reach puberty, followed by her mother, then the father and thereafter his mother.[34]  In practice, judges use their discretion, often granting custody to the father, particularly in cases where the mother is not Libyan. [35] Men have the right to repudiate (divorce unilaterally) their wives, but such divorces must be registered with the court, which will grant the divorce if the wife agrees, or if there is a justified reason.[36] Women do not have the same right, and can only obtain a divorce under a limited number of conditions (e.g. desertion or lack of financial support), or request a ‘khula’ divorce and forfeit their dowry.[37] Divorced women may face social stigma and financial difficulties, particularly if they do not have support from their natal family.[38]  According to Human Rights Watch, Article 11 of Law no. 24 of 2010 on the Provisions of Libyan Nationality (adopted on January 28 but made public in July) extends Libyan nationality to children born to Libyan mothers and foreign fathers, but leaves the interpretation of the provision to implementing regulations that the committee had not yet issued.[39]

Sharia law provides for detailed and complex calculations of inheritance shares.[40]  Woman may inherit from their father, mother, husband or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members.[41]  However, their share is generally smaller than that to which men are entitled.[42]  Daughters, for example, inherit only half as much as sons.[43]  Pargeter reports that in some cases, women cede their inheritance rights to their brothers, partly to ensure that they will then receive financial support if they do not marry, or become divorced or widowed.[44] It is not clear how common this practice is.

[19] Pargeter (2010) p.292 [20] Pargeter (2010) p.292 [21] Pargeter (2010) p.287 [22] Pargeter (2010) p.292 [23] Rashad et al (2005) p.2 [24] United Nations (2004) p.199 [25] Pargeter (2010) p.292 [26] Pargeter (2010) p. 292 [27] Rashad et al (2005) p.4 [28] Pargeter (2010) p.291 [29] Amnesty International (2010) p.211 [30] Pargeter (2010) p.293 [31] Pargeter (2010) p.293 [32] Pargeter (2010) p.292 [33] Uhlman (2004) [34] Pargeter (2010) p.294 [35] Pargeter (2010) p.294 [36] Pargeter (2010) p.294 [37] Pargeter (2010) p.294 [38] Pargeter (2010) p.294 [39] Human Rights Watch (2010) [40] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11 [41] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11 [42] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11 [43] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11 [44] Pargeter (2010) p.297

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Article 17 of Law No. 10 of 1984 states that husbands should not cause physical or mental harm to their wives, but beyond this, there is no legislation in place to protect women from domestic violence, or to penalise perpetrators.[45] Until recently, there was official refusal to accept that violence against women occurred at all, in any form, in the country, although this appeared to be changing, and in 2007 a semi-official project sought to raise awareness of the issue.[46] There are no accurate figures available as to the prevalence of domestic violence, but it is thought to be fairly common.[47] The intervention of family members or neighbours in incidents of domestic violence tends to limit reporting, as does social stigma and the fear of being rejected by the husband and extended family.[48] The few cases that are filed are usually subsequently withdrawn.[49] There are no shelters or support services widely available to women who have experienced domestic violence.[50] However, it is reported that in 2009, a programme was launched by Aisha Qaddafi’s association, Watassimo, to provide support to women victims of violence. This included a helpline, with including legal and psychological professional advisors.[51]  From 2009 to 2010, it is reported that 2,900 women have called the phone line which resulted in 833 legal and penal cases being launched.

Rape is a criminal offence, but the law does not recognise the concept of spousal rape.[52]  Rape victims seldom report what has happened to them, for fear of being blamed themselves, or of being prosecuted for engaging in extramarital sex.[53]  In addition, a rapist can escape punishment if he agrees to marry his victim; in theory the victim’s consent is needed, but in practice, given the huge stigma attached to sexual violence, women in this position have very little choice but to agree.[54] No information was found regarding how often this occurs. There is no law against sexual harassment.[55] In 2009, adult residents of a care home for women and girls orphaned as children made complaints about ongoing sexual harassment at the centre.[56] The women were initially pressured by officials to retract their claims, although the Prosecutor’s Office then went on to open an investigation, which resulted in the director of the residence being charged.[57]  There were widespread reports of rape being used as a tactic of the recent war, with the International Criminal Court adding charges of rape against Gaddafi.[58]

Women and girls who have been cast out by their families or are deemed to be at risk of engaging in immoral behaviour can be held in state ‘social rehabilitation centres’ (effectively prisons) indefinitely, according to Freedom House.[59] Women have no right to appeal their internment, and are reportedly subject to intrusive medical and virginity examinations on admittance.[60] According to Pargeter, so-called ‘honour’ killings are not common in Libya, even though the Penal Code contains provisions for more lenient sentences for men who kill or harm a female relative on discovering that she has engaged in extra-marital sex.[61]

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is a general practice, but a 2003 UN report indicates that it may be practised among some nomadic tribes in remote rural areas, and among migrant groups from Sub-Saharan Africa.[62] It is not clear whether or not FGM is a criminal offence in Libya, or how many girls and women are affected. As the government denies that FGM occurs in the country at all,[63]  it would presumably be very difficult for data to be collected.

The law does not specifically criminalise trafficking in persons.[64] Libya is a destination and transit country for women and men trafficked from Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia for purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation, and appears to have done little to address the problem.[65] For instance, no information has ever been given as to the number of people prosecuted related to trafficking offences, and no support appears to be provided to victims.[66]

Women have the right to use contraception, but it is very difficult for them to access information on reproductive health and contraception, because of social taboos around discussion of sexuality.[67] Women also need to have their husband’s consent to obtain contraceptive services.[68] Overall, provision of healthcare is inadequate in Libya.[69] According to UNFPA, 45% of women reported using some form of contraception, including so-called ‘traditional’ methods.[70] Abortion is only legal in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.[71]

[45] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [46] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [47] ECOSOC (2003) p.149 [48] ECOSOC (2003) p.149; Pargeter (2010) p.295 [49] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [50] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [51] ANSAmed, Violence Against Women: Anti-Abuse Freephone Line In Libya [52] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [53] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [54] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [55] Pargeter (2010) p.300 [56] Human Rights Watch (2010) [57] Human Rights Watch (2010) [58] Kossov, Igor (2011), “Gadhafi Said to Order Forces to Rape Villagers”; (2011), “LIBYA/INTERNATIONAL: Muammer's Rapists” [59] Freedom House (2010). See also Pargeter (2010) p.288 [60] Pargeter (2010) p.288 [61] Pargeter (2010) pp.287-288 [62] ECOSOC (2003) p.149 [63] See CEDAW (1999) pp.14, 40 [64] US Department of State (2010) [65] CIA (2010) [66] US Department of State (2010) [67] Pargeter (2010) p.304 [68] Pargeter (2010) p.304 [69] Pargeter (2010) p.304 [70] UNFPA (2010) p.96 [71] UNDP (2007)  

Son Bias: 

According to UNFPA, the under-five mortality rate for boys and girls is virtually equal.[72]  Gender-disaggregated data for nutrition and immunisation rates is not available, but according to UNICEF, overall, the rate for the latter is very high (97-99%, depending on the vaccine).[73]  Again according to UNICEF, gross primary and secondary school enrolment rates are above 100% for both boys and girls.[74]  Figures provided by UNFPA however indicate that at secondary level, gross enrolment rates stand at 86% for boys and 101% for girls.[75]  Women also outnumber men in higher education.[76]

Given that in most neighbouring countries, the under-five mortality rate is lower for girls than for boys, the fact that in Libya the rate is virtually equal (20 per thousand births for boys, 19 per thousand births for girls[77]) may indicate a degree of son preference in regard to early childhood care in Libya. Son preference is not apparent in access to education.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.05.[78]  Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups indicates that Libya is a country of concern in relation to missing women, although there has been improvement in recent years.

[72] UNFPA (2010) p.102 [73] UNICEF (2007) p.111 [74] UNICEF (2007) p.111 [75] UNFPA (2010) p.96 [76] Pargeter (2010) p.298 [77] UNFPA (2010) p.102 [78] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women have the legal right to own, manage and administer land and property.[82]  In practice, social convention dictates that men retain control and ownership of land.[83]  This is despite the fact that according to a 2002 FAO report, extensive out-migration of men from rural areas in Libya has resulted in the effective ‘feminisation’ of agriculture, with women assuming more and more responsibility for agricultural production.[84]

Women also have the legal right to access to bank loans (without their husbands’ consent) and to enter into various forms of financial contracts.[85]  In most cases, however, husbands or fathers take responsibility for any financial undertakings and commitments, and may also expect women to hand over income.[86]  In 2007 the Rural Bank granted 19,558 loans, of which 4,502 went to women.[87]

[82] Pargeter (2010) p.297 [83] Pargeter (2010) p.295 [84] Cotula (2002[2007]) p.133 [85] Pargeter (2010) p.297 [86] Pargeter (2010) p.297 [87] Pargeter (2010) p.15

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, but societal norms can limit their right to move freely, especially in the evenings or in rural areas where social norms are more conservative.[88]  In general, while there is no legal requirement for women to obtain their husband or male guardian’s permission to secure a passport or travel independently, social conventions mean that women do not travel alone or without the permission of their husbands or families. [89]  In addition, it is difficult for women to travel on their own within Libya, as most hotels will not accept unaccompanied women.[90] It is also socially unacceptable for an unmarried or divorced woman to live on her own.[91]  An attempt to introduce legal restrictions on the freedom of movement of women outside the country in 2007 caused outcry, and was quickly overturned.[92] 

Freedom of expression, association and assembly are all heavily restricted under criminal law in Libya.[93] All media is state-controlled, and there are no independent NGOs (including women’s rights organisations).[94]

There were 36 women members of the 468-member General People’s Congress (7.7%), which is indirectly elected by members of (male dominated) local congresses.[95] In practice though, Colonel Gaddafi retained complete control over the state apparatus, and the General People’s Congress has very little power or influence.[96] There remains uncertainty over women’s rights and status in the public sphere following the recent conflict. The absence of an independent NGO sector means that there is no alternative forum where women could obtain leadership positions.

Pregnant women are entitled to 50 days’ paid maternity leave in Libya, and discrimination based on gender in employment and pay is banned under the Labour Law (1970).[97] Under the Labour Law, women are prohibited from working in ‘difficult or dangerous’ jobs and from working at night.[98] Women also face pressure from husbands and family members not to enter professions where they will be mixing with men, and to work close to home; inevitably, these stipulations limit women’s employment options. [99]

[88] Pargeter (2010) p.291 [89] Pargeter (2010) p.291 [90] Pargeter (2010) p.291 [91] Pargeter (2010) p.306 [92] Pargeter (2010) p.291[93] Ammesty International (2010) pp.209-210; Human Rights Watch (2010) [94] Freedom House (2010); Human Rights Watch (2010); Pargeter (2010) p.289 [95] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.); Freedom House (2010); Pargeter (2010) p.303 [96] Pargeter (2010) p.283 [97] ILO (2009); Pargeter (2010) p.299 [98] Pargeter (2010) p.299 [99] Pargeter (2010) p.299 


Having been part of the Ottoman Empire and then an Italian colony, Libya became independent in 1951.[1] Between 1969 and 2011, the country was governed by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was consistently intolerant of all forms of dissent.[2] In 2011, the colonel's autocratic government was brought to an end by a six-month uprising and ensuing civil war. The country is currently governed by the National Transitional Council that emerged from the rebellion and has pledged to turn Libya into a pluralist, democratic state.[3]  The economy depends primarily on revenue from oil, and corruption is considered to be a serious problem.[4] The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, and Islam is the declared state religion.[5] Religious practice has been closely controlled by the state.[6]  Libya is classed as an upper middle income country by the World Bank.[7] 

Most national legislation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya supports equal rights for men and women, and Colonel Gaddafi sought to promote the position of women in the country and improve women’s access to education and employment.[8] But many legal provisions that would ensure equality remain unenforced, as deeply rooted patriarchal values and traditions persist, and indeed according to Pargeter (writing in a 2010 report for Freedom House), have strengthened as people seek to defy what they see as the foisting of alien, liberal values on the society without their consent.[9]  As a result, in practical terms, the position of women in Libya remains inferior, huge pressure is placed on women to conform to social and cultural norms in order to uphold the family’s ‘honour’, and there was a wide gap between the regime’s rhetoric regarding gender equality and women’s rights, and the reality for most women.[10] Efforts to improve the status of women in Libya have also been hampered by two major factors: it is impossible to establish women’s rights groups that are independent of the state, and individuals (both women and men) are subject to abuse and torture if they are suspected to sympathise with government opposition groups. [11]

Libya has no written constitution.[12] The country’s basic legal framework consists of a series of laws and key declarations, including the 1977 Declaration of the Authority of the People and the 1988 Great Green Charter of Human Rights in the Age of the Masses, both of which declare equality between women and men.[13] The 1997 Charter on the Rights and Duties of Women in Jamahiriya Society, which is considered one of the most important laws relating to women, includes provisions to guarantee the equal rights of men and women in areas such as national security duties, marriage, divorce, child custody, the right to work, social security, and financial independence.[14] However, these guarantees of equality are undermined by family law, which retains many discriminatory clauses (as discussed below).[15] The country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against women in 1989, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention in 2004 (one of only two countries in the region to do so, the other being Tunisia).[16] Reservations to CEDAW were listed at Article 2 and Article 16, in relation to rights and responsibilities in marriage, divorce, and parenthood, on the grounds that these articles should be applied without prejudice to Sharia law.[17] Libya ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2004.[18]

[1] CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010); Pargeter (2010) p.283 [2] CIA (2010); Amnesty International (2010) pp.210-211; Human Rights Watch (2010) [3] See BBC (2011) (BBC Country Profile, Libya [4] CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010) [5] CIA (2010); Pargeter (2010) p.290 [6] Pargeter (2010) p.290 [7] World Bank (n.d.) [8] Pargeter (2010) p.284 [9] Pargeter (2010) p.284 [10] Pargeter (2010) pp.285, 290 [11] Pargeter (2010) p.284; Amnesty International (2010) pp.210-211; Human Rights Watch (2010) [12] Pargeter (2010) p.284 [13] Pargeter (2010) pp.285-286 [14] Pargeter (2010) p.284 [15] Pargeter (2010) p.286 [16] United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.) [17] Pargeter (2010) p.289 [18] African Union (2010)  


ANSAmed, Violence Against Women: Anti-Abuse Freephone Line In Libya, available at

African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010). (accessed 15 October 2010)

Amnesty International (2010) Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, London: Amnesty International. (accessed 8 November 2010)

BBC (2011) ‘Defiant Gaddafi pledges victory’, BBC News, 23 March 2011, (accessed 23 March 2011)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: Libya, online edition, (accessed 16 March 2011)

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 14 March 2012)

Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1999) ‘CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES UNDER ARTICLE 18 OF THE CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN Second periodic reports of States parties LIBYAN ARAB JAMAHIRIYA’, CEDAW/C/LBY/2, CEDAW, New York, (accessed 23 March 2011)

Cotula, L. for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Legal Office (2002 [2007]), Gender and Law: Women’s Rights in Agriculture, FAO Legislative Study No. 76, 2002 (revised 2007), Rome. Available at (accessed 3 March 2011)

Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Libya, online edition, (accessed 16 March 2011)

Human Rights Watch (2010) World Report2010: Libya, New York: Human Rights Watch, (accessed 16 March 2011)

Human Rights Watch (2010), Libya: Step Ahead for Women on Nationality Rights, available at (accessed 19 March 2012)

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws,

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), (n.d.), country profile: Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, (accessed 16 March 2011)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) ‘LIBYAN ARAB JAMAHIRIYA: Mutamar Al Chaab Al Aam (General People's Congress)’, (accessed 23 March 2011)

Kossov, Igor (2011), “Gadhafi Said to Order Forces to Rape Villagers, available at, (accessed 19 March 2012)

Pargeter, Alison (2010) ‘Libya’, in Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, eds., (2010) Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, New York, NY: Freedom House; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Rashad, Hoda, Magued Osman, and Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi (2005), Marriage in the Arab World, PRB (Population Reference Bureau), Washington DC. Available at (accessed 3 March 2011)

Uhlman, K. (2004) ‘Overview of Shari’a and Prevalent Customs in Islamic Societies: Divorce and Child Custody’, Expert Law, (accessed 3 March 2011)

United Nations (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from (accessed 21 October 2010).

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2010: Libya, online edition, (accessed 16 March 2011)

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (2003) ‘INTEGRATION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND THE GENDER PERSPECTIVE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/52 Addendum 1 International, regional and national developments in the area of violence against women 1994-2003’, E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1, ECOSOC, New York

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2010) State of the World’s Population 2010. From conflict and crisis to renewal: generations of change, UNFPA, New York

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) (2005) ‘Islam, land & property research series’, Paper 6: Islamic inheritance laws and systems, Nairobi, Kenya. Available at (accessed 10 February 2011)

UNICEF (2007) State of the World’s Children: the Double Dividend of Gender Equality, New York: UNICEF

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. 

-          CEDAW: (accessed 16 March 2011)

-          Optional Protocol: (accessed 16 March 2011)

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World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at (accessed 2 March 2012) (2011), “LIBYA/INTERNATIONAL: Muammer's Rapists”,available at (accessed 19 March 2012)

Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Missing Women: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: