The Women Behind Libya’s Growing Economy

The Women Behind Libya’s Growing Economy

It may come as a surprise to hear that Libya, a country fraught with war, militia, and a lack of security, is actually one of the world’s fastest-grow

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It may come as a surprise to hear that Libya, a country fraught with war, militia, and a lack of security, is actually one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, overtaking Ethiopia as Africa’s fastest-growing economy in 2019. While a third of the population lives below the poverty line, there are women showing their entrepreneurial spirit by launching their own businesses in order to get by. Here, we’ll look at these remarkable women, and how they’ve made a life for themselves in a traditionally conservative and oppressively patriarchal society.

Libyan women need an independent source of income

Women in Libya have traditionally relied on their husbands and families in order to survive, and are generally considered housewives or daughters. However, as divorced and widowed women don’t have this financial support, they are looking to make their own money.


The Amal Foundation focuses on helping women get back on their feet by teaching them how to embroider, so they can sell their wares at local markets. As the charity’s founder Gamal al-Masraty explains, its purpose is to prevent families from becoming too dependent on charity organizations for food supplies, when they have the means to be more proactive. Almost 50 sewing machines were donated to the cause from both in and outside Libya.


However, even Libyan women who have qualifications and jobs have needed to launch businesses to supplement their low income. Seham Saleh is an assistant professor and freelance architect, but inflation quickly started eating into her state-paid salary. On top of this, due to the cash crisis which ensued after the government effectively devalued the Libyan Dinar (LYD), public servants often don’t have their salaries paid out to them in full. For Seham, even if she did receive her full assistant professor’s salary of 1,000 dinars per month (£201), she couldn’t survive. Instead, she turned to design, and started selling drawings of people in traditional Libyan dresses, or digitally created bookmarks over the internet, as a side job. “Thank God… people wanted to buy the products,” Seham told Reuters of her success.

Entrepreneurs are taking over various industries

From organizing support groups to launching whole businesses with employees, Libyan women are taking control. Reuters also reported on Mayaz Elahshmi, who launched her own business training women how to fix their own computers. Explaining her reasons, Mayaz said: “There is a big demand as many women are reluctant to go to a phone shop where men work, as they have personal files on their phones.” Her first training session was attended by six women, who each paid 30 Dinars.


Meanwhile, Fattoum Nasser is the brains behind the food delivery app Yummy, which was born after she won the Enjazi Startup Competition. The app was launched after Fattoum and her business partner, Aziza Adam, noticed that many women were delivering their own home-cooked meals in order to make a living following the financial crisis. However, due to the lack of monitoring, marketing, or any kind of management, they found it hard to raise decent profits. Yummy links these women to customers, working as an effective marketing tool, offering an ordering system, and even handling the delivery by connecting drivers. The feedback tool for customers also gives each chef the chance to improve their cooking skills.


The app hasn’t been without its hiccups. Due to the high carjacking rates, Fattoum decided to organize neutral meeting points for its delivery drivers to meet customers. Orders are also solely handled over the phone, due to the country’s regular blackouts which cause internet outages. Now, however, Yummy operates across Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sebha, connecting over 400 cooks and drivers with clients.

There are plenty of investment opportunities

The thriving female entrepreneurs taking over Libya could, naturally, be attracting the attention of investors. The EU, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and Libya’s own Tatweer Research collaborated at the end of 2018 to offer a 400,000 LYD (£229,512 )  grant to six Libyan startups, as part of the Impact Fund programme. One of these startups was Yummy.

With this in mind, it’s highly likely that these female-fronted businesses will look for further funding to grow and develop, making Libya fertile ground for potential investors. Anyone looking to invest should look to getting hold of a Libyan business visa in order to work closely with the country’s entrepreneurs and see where the money will be used. These are difficult to get hold of, however, so it’s best to work with an experienced agency.

Government measures state that foreign investors are required to have an agent working in the country. On top of this, the Libyan Investment Law was specifically introduced to encourage national and foreign investment capital. Companies who contribute to diversifying the local economy, create jobs, and develop rural areas can enjoy considerable tax benefits as a reward for their investment.