Local writer, artist and Publicity Officer for Portsmouth and Hampshire Arts Society, Irene Strange, shares her experiences of living in Libya in the 1960s as she reflects on International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day is held annually on 8th March, and has been marked by the United Nations since 1977 to celebrate the ‘social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality’. You can find out more about it at the official website.
My own story as an international woman began when I was living in Libya, a more peaceful country then than it is today. I was living in Benghazi after joining my late husband as an ex-pat in 1967, who was working as a deep sea diver for an American oil company, building the first oil well in Libya.
At the time, it was a man’s world and after living in Libya for a couple of years and with nothing to do in the daytime, I dared to apply to the Benghazi Times for a job writing daily columns. I got the job, and was soon covering Benghazi International Women’s Open Day including a catwalk fashion show and an art exhibition, attended by women from more than 24 nations. I still have the newspaper’s double page spread with my by-line (see image).
I was also fortunate to cover an exhibition by Christina Savalas (mother of actor Telly Savalas of Kojak fame), an impressionist painter. Her son, Constantine Savalas, was the American attaché in Benghazi brought Christina’s paintings over from Greece for the exhibition. It was a proud moment for me to help showcase the work of international women like Christina.
Later, I approached the Benghazi Radio station and soon launched a new programme, The English division of the Libyan Broadcasting Service. I and another English woman broadcast music requests each evening, working as DJs.
I am now 87 years old and still participate in local activities as a writer and artist. You can be involved at any age! I’ve been blessed by many experiences in my life, including being a mother, travelling across the world, working in so many different areas and having many adventures along the way. I even survived a tornado in Amarillo, Texas, but that’s a story for another day!
As women, we were then and still are working in a world that is dominated by men, and I believe that as women, we can break through and chase our goals, right here.
In Portsmouth there are so many opportunities for women to get involved in the local community and in pursuing their own goals. Groups like the Portsmouth and Hampshire Art Society, the Writers’ Hub, workshops in community centres and libraries for mothers and children, musical and acting groups in theatres like the Kings and Groundlings.
So what are you waiting for? Get involved!
A version of this article also appears on the International Women’s Day website.