Core Issues Affecting Women’s Lives in Libya

Women in Libya

During this years panel at the Women of the World (WOW) festival, the following question was posed: “What are the core issues affecting women’s lives in the Arab region and what is the role of the women’s movement in revolution, war and peace building?”

As you can imagine, that is an incredibly loaded question to attempt to tackle in an hours slot. The Arab world itself is so diverse in its situation and therefore differs in the experience that women have in those countries, where religion and culture somehow blur as men (predominantly) dictate the lives of everyone.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH LIBYA

As I find it often unhelpful to take a broad brush and try to paint a whole region with it, which is one of my pet peeves that I see many people do, I decided that I would focus on what I am familiar with and know.

My focus was to be on Libyan women’s experiences, a country I spent much of my childhood in, a community I was bought up in, and a country that post-revolution I had hoped would become my home again.

As I find it often unhelpful to take a broad brush and try to paint a whole region with it, which is one of my pet peeves that I see many people do, I decided that I would focus on what I am familiar with and know.

I was also conscious that I was not a woman living inside Libya, and that the fact that I had dual citizenship, which with it came the freedom to be in or out of Libya, which many others did not.

CONNECTING WITH FEMINISTS AND ACTIVISTS

Although I knew many of the issues and have a lot of family in Libya, and connect with many Libyans through my research as well as my page Positive Libya, I didn’t want to dismiss the voices of all those women who don’t have the opportunity to be on a panel in London to discuss these concerns.

This led me to speaking with an inspirational young Libyan woman by the name of Khadeja Ramli. She was running a feminist project, called Project Silphium, with a group of other young Libyan women, which is based in Libya to support Libyan women.

She was able to translate the question posed and shared it in both Arabic and English through social media, predominantly on Twitter and Facebook, where we received a number of responses from women.

Although I knew many of the issues and have a lot of family in Libya, and connect with many Libyans through my research as well as my page Positive Libya, I didn’t want to dismiss the voices of all those women who don’t have the opportunity to be on a panel in London to discuss these concerns.

The three main issues which were of focus were not a massive surprise. In an incredibly unstable country, comprised of a political situation which seems to simply get more confusing by the day, the three main concerns were:

  1. Safety and security
  2. Representation (of lack thereof)
  3. Incompetence of government/parliament as well as the international community

SOME OF THE COMMENTS MADE FROM LIBYAN WOMEN

Aya: Although there is more visibility for women, and that there are some female politicians which didn’t exist pre-revolution, she didn’t believe that those women were doing enough and that perceptions of female leaders was negative and they were often looked down on by both men and women.

She suggested the need for further capacity building for women and an increase in resources in order to give younger women opportunities to make a difference. Like some others, she believed that unity between women is lacking and this damages the whole movement to improve women’s rights in the country.

Amira: The increase of harassment on the streets was of massive concern for women and girls who simply didn’t feel safe being in outside public spaces. Amira said that this often meant that their families were even more protective, expecting them to stay at home, in order to prevent any incident happening.

libyan_girl_wearing_a_niqab_libya_2011-06-07

The lack of laws also meant that many campaigns on these issues can be a waste of time and that more is needed than simply words.

Sara: She felt that for many women the women’s movement is scary, it goes against some of the cultural ideas that have existed in Libya, where women were not so visible in positions of authority. Sara believed that the revolution would help women, but that it doesn’t feel like it has, and that in fact women have been pushed out of public life.

The increase of harassment on the streets was of massive concern for women and girls who simply didn’t feel safe being in outside public spaces. Amira said that this often meant that their families were even more protective, expecting them to stay at home, in order to prevent any incident happening.

She went as far as saying that the women’s movement itself was to blame for their inability to adequately support Libyan women and change the perceptions men have of women in the public light.

Khadeja: The revolution had presented a new start, a canvas for a new Libya that included women in it’s core, as well as the opportunity that women had during the peace talks in Libya. However,  few people truly cared enough about women as a whole being of core importance during this time, and this includes Libyan women themselves, as well as the UN officials in charge, Libyan politicians and the international community engaged in the process.

She went on to say that opportunities are limited for women, more so due to limitations in travel due to safety concerns and cultural/religious opinions on the issue. But that women are also often prisoners of their own stereotypes and generalizations on what their role is and what it isn’t.

WOMEN IN ONLINE SPACES

As well as these concerns, the fear of online harassment was also seen to be a massive concern for women, where women are targeted and bullied online to make them step back from the positions they hold online.

This includes the fear or being photographed or videoed, due to how it it used to ridicule and embarrass women in online spaces.

However, there was recognition for the many benefits that online spaces have provided for women in Libya, especially under the current security concerns which exist in the country.

Women in Libya

Women are able to connect, to share stories, to support one another and develop projects which look specifically at women’s issues and how to improve them, in the safety of their homes.

There was recognition for the many benefits that online spaces have provided for women in Libya, especially under the current security concerns which exist in the country. Women are able to connect, to share stories, to support one another and develop projects which look specifically at women’s issues and how to improve them, in the safety of their homes.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the work collectively or individually that Libyan women have made and are making to make the situation in Libya better for others, which can often be dismissed.

Amna Abdullatif

Amna Abdullatif

Amna Abdullatif is a community psychologist currently working as the national lead on children and young people for a leading national domestic violence charity in the UK. She has spent the last 10 years working with women and children within the voluntary sector for a range of organizations.Having lived in Libya in her childhood, and returning after the revolution she has focused her postgraduate studies on exploring women's role during and after the revolutions. Her paper titled, ‘The voice of women in the Arab Spring’, has been published in The Journal of Social Science Education, exploring issues such a female agency, empowerment, social action and change. She currently runs @PositiveLibya, sharing some of positive news about Libya and Libyans making a difference, as well as @MENAWomensP a platform for women in the Middle East and North Africa to share economic and political empowerment.

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