By Deepa Babington
'We should not treat roses like barley' - Libyan leader calls for gender respect.
European women are being forced to work like men, travel alone and sleep in hotels out of necessity rather than choice, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi lamented to an incredulous crowd of 1,000 Italian women on Friday.In a rambling speech that alternately drew boos and applause from the smartly-dressed women, Gaddafi said European women had been pushed into the workplace after wars in the last century because their men had been killed off.
"After the World War that killed many men, European women were forced to leave their homes to support their children," said Gaddafi, known for his all-female bodyguard corps.
"So women were forced to do the work of men ... And as long as women are forced to do the work of men, it means we have assaulted their nature."
A much better system was to allow women to freely choose whether they wanted to do a man's job like drive a train, said Gaddafi, who has ruffled feathers on other occasions in his first state visit to Italy.
"We should not treat roses like barley," Gaddafi said.
"I once visited an underground explosives factory in Eastern Europe where women were covered from head to toe and had dusty hair. Is this the freedom we want? Why force women to work in an explosives factory?"
The women in attendance, including ministers and prominent businesswomen, initially responded with boos but applauded when Gaddafi said he believed in equal rights for men and women, who should be free to marry and divorce at will.
But he added: "Why did God create two sexes? He could have created just one. We have to respect the difference in gender."
Gaddafi held a similar meeting in 2007 on a visit to Paris, where he said he wanted to "save European women."
He has maintained a defiant tone throughout his Italian trip, arriving with a photo of an anti-Italian resistance hero pinned to his chest and declaring he would ban political parties to give Italians direct power if it were up to him.
His host on Friday, Mara Carfagna, a former showgirl turned Equal Opportunities Minister, called for women's rights in Africa during her opening remarks and sat stone-faced through Gaddafi's discourse.
Some women shouted "No" to some of Gaddafi's declarations, but many were willing to accept his speech as a cross-cultural exercise and praised him for meeting them.
"He definitely made a few gaffes. He comes from such a different world that perhaps he's not ready for the type of emancipation among women we have in Europe," said Laura Vitillo, a 65-year-old Italian businesswoman.
"The real injustice is not that women are doing men's jobs, but that they are treated and paid differently for doing so."
Maria Francesca Bergamaschi, 24, said: "I was sceptical at first but then I was happy that he spoke of equal rights on marriage and divorce. I hope it was a positive message. Through it all I couldn't exactly get what he was trying to say." (Reuters)