Libyan Women Take the Lead in Building Peace and Democracy
Four years after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, fractures in governance and society have given way to violence and civil unrest. Two competing governments have since emerged – each backed by militias that have turned Libyan neighborhoods into battlegrounds. Despite steadfast attempts by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to broker a ceasefire and peace deal, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) loyalists and Tobruk-based House of Representatives members struggle to find common ground for national dialogue.
But while political leaders struggle to find space for compromise, Libyan women activists have taken a leadership role in setting aside their differences to advocate for peace and increased rights. With the support of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), UNSMIL, and the United Nations Development Programme, 35 Libyan women came together from January 19-24 in Djerba, Tunisia to play a proactive role in the country’s volatile transition process. The women represented different regions and cultural groups including the Amazigh and Tebu minorities, and engaged in two workshops addressing their leadership role in conflict resolution and promoting gender equality in the constitution drafting process.
Notably, the women gathered to reach a collective voice for a peaceful and democratic Libya. The lack of consensus has so far jeopardized the constitution drafting process as the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) struggles to produce a final draft more than a year after the Assembly was elected. Aspirations for a prosperous democratic system in Libya are now replaced with fear as security conditions deteriorate with the increased presence of Islamic State group militants in Libyan cities.
While the conflict affects both men and women, the lack of security has a pronounced impact on women, including their mobility and participation in political and electoral processes. According to a status of women survey conducted by IFES in 2013, 57 percent of women stated they were somewhat or completely restricted from leaving their homes without permission. The continued deterioration of security conditions bars women from actively participating in political life. Meanwhile, women’s constitutional rights hang in the balance as the constitution drafting process stalls.
In this critical moment in Libya’s history, women should be poised to play an important role in conflict resolution and setting the foundations for women’s rights. As such, the workshops enabled Libyan women to produce a peace statement that includes ten demands for sustainable peace, human rights, and building of a democratic Libya. Acknowledging national dialogue as a last resort to ending the crisis, the women called for a ceasefire; commitment to United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 (which calls for the integration of a gender approach in peace operations); the return of displaced men and women to their homes; elimination of violence against women; and the increased role of women in peacemaking. The demands addressed national, regional, and international audiences and demonstrated a unified front from women leaders in a conflict zone.
In addition to their role in peacemaking, the women activists attended a second workshop to promote their active engagement and effective participation in reviewing the draft Constitution. Upon reviewing the draft from the eight constitutional committees, which was released in December 2014, IFES and UN constitutional and gender experts provided a platform for women to openly discuss their opinions and demands, which could be incorporated into the draft. Participants agreed that the lack of women’s participation in the drafting process would result in denial of opportunities in accessing resources, services, and social amenities.
At this pivotal time for the inclusion of women’s rights in the Constitution, the activists drafted a list of detailed recommendations to the CDA based on the released early draft from the constitutional committees. The recommendations specifically addressed: Shariah (Islamic Law) principles as a source of legislation; increased representation of women in legislative, executive, and judicial branches; commitment to international treaties and conventions; equality between the sexes; women’s representation in political parties; criminalizing violence against women; educational rights; and more. The workshop further built women’s leadership skills and provided them tools to engage with the CDA and civil society to advocate for adoption of these recommendations.
Of the 35 women activists, 20 have been selected to participate in the Women’s Leadership Program (WLP), which is slated to take place in the coming months. The program aims to build confidence and capacity among women through enhanced skills in communication, coalition building and professionalism to better carry out their advocacy recommendations and effectively participate in decision-making. The intensive program uniquely combines training knowledge with real life experiences by providing women with opportunities to apply their new skillsets.
IFES piloted the WLP in Libya in April 2013 whereby 19 women from across Libya were trained, and 14 completed internships at various institutions including the High National Election Commission (HNEC), Prime Minister’s office, GNC’s Women’s Caucus, and both national and international nongovernmental organizations. The program resulted in long-term employment opportunities for several women including one in the Prime Minister’s office in Benghazi and four at the HNEC. The program is continually adapted to address current challenges in Libya that affect women’s participation.
Despite the host of political and security challenges facing the country, women activists in Libya have taken the first step toward national reconciliation by coming together to find solutions and seeking to improve their leadership skills. Equipping them with the tools to engage with decision-makers will place them at the forefront of national dialogue and build a democratic and inclusive system.