Journalism and the arts proved a useful arena for women's equality in 1960s Libya finds Irene Strange

Irene Strange is an artist and writer from Portsmouth, United Kingdom. At 87, she holds the role of Publicity Officer for the Porstmouth and Hants Art Society that boasts over one hundred members; and regularly pens articles and poems for her local paper, the Portsmouth News.

In 1969, Irene was a member of the International Women's Day Club in Libya where she joined her husband, a deep sea diver for an oil company. Irene shares her story about how she set out to achieve many great things as a woman in a man's world, and how she has tenaciously carried her strong desire to smash stereotypes and exceed expectations right rhrough her entire life and into her octagenarian age.

By Irene Strange

My own story and experience as an international woman began when living in Libya.  

The country was more peaceful than it is today. I was living in Benghazi, having joined my late husband as an ex-pat in 1967. He was working as a Deep Sea Diver for an American oil company building the first oil well in Libya. It was a man's world and living out there for a couple of years with nothing to do in the day time, I dared to apply to the Benghazi Times for a job writing daily columns for the newspaper. This act in itself overcame bias for English women working out there at that time.

After a successful application, I covered the event of our Benghazi International Women's open day together with a cat-walk fashion show and art exhibition organised by the members. Women from twenty four nationalities were in attendance.I believe that women, in circumstances, can truly overcome obstacles to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions.

While in Libya in my position as a women journalist in that man's world, I was able to step forward and cover the event and exhibition of a famous woman impressionist painter, a Greek American by the name of Christina Savalas, mother of the late, equally famous Telly Savalas of TV film fame (Kojak). His brother Constantine Savalas, at that time, was the American attache in Benghazi and permission to bring Christina's paintings over from Greece for this exhibition proved a great success.

Showcasing Christina's paintings in the exhibition was, in my opinion, a great way to broaden perspectives and shift any bias of women in a man's world, and it demonstrated the relevance and achievement of an international woman artist making headway across the continents.

IWD Irene Strange

While in Libya, I was approached by the Benghazi Radio station, the English division of the Libyan Broadcasting Service, to open a new programme. Together with another English woman we broadcast record requests every evening as DJs, again this was another role normally played by men.

This, I believe, encourages women to take one vital step forward to achieve what they dream about. Women can broaden their perspectives and take that first step by starting small and making that change.

The Royal Academy of Arts in London is currently showing an exhibition of paintings by acclaimed women artists especially for International Women's Day. All these women began by making that first stroke of a paintbrush on canvas, just as writers place that first word from their pencils on their pads; just as budding politicians first took an interest in their local council's objectives.

I hope women everywhere will reach out and find these first small opportunities because in every locality throughout every country, there are so many opportunities awaiting - and now there are so many supportive networking groups to inspire others.

Although I am 87 years old, I am still participating in several activities as an artist and a writer. On my eightieth birthday, I even travelled on my own in a wheelchair (due to Spinal Stenosis) to visit my sister in Texas USA who has lived there for over fifty years. During this stay, I visited my niece, travelled Route 66 from Amarillo, and even survived a devastating tornado.

Despite my age and being a small fish in a large pond, I feel like I have achieved a lot - including motherhood, travel, job positions, overcoming adversities, and enjoying many adventures and life experiences - and much more.

So, just as I did so many decades ago when equality certainly was not the norm, I hope my words encourage further women to take that first step forward as an empowered woman and to see what they can courageously achieve for themselves.

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