Project Silphium Combats Harassment and Violence Against Women

Street Harassment

Khadeja Ramali, founder of Project Silphium, passionately speaks out against harassment and violence against women, as she works diligently to empower the women and girls in her home country of Libya.

What is Project Silphium? When and why did you decide to create it? 

Project Silphium is a women’s empowerment initiative aimed at highlighting and advocating for women’s participation in our communities as a tool for peace building in the post Arab Spring society.

Project Silphium (PS) created a digital space which highlights Libyan women’s stories and makes their voices heard. Using a mix of online tools and offline communication to reach the community, they hope to advocate for Libyan women in a new creative way.

My project began in mid 2014 because of the conflict, civil society started to talk a back seat to the wars and the conflict in Libya. For some time the women started to disappear from the scenes completely.

Mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to Libyan women and when it did they wrote fluff pieces. When the environment is less secure families are inclined to keep their daughters inside. Women aren’t allowed to move freely or attend events or workshops.

stop harassment

So while having a conversation with a friend who lives in Benghazi we decided we needed to do something. even if it wasn’t perfect we needed to be out there. We wanted to capture the attention and bring it back to “women in Libya” even if it was in an online space.

Most projects I was involved in always had a male lead, there was always a male volunteer majority. They all relied on traditional civil society ways, nobody wanted to innovate or introduce new ways.

Mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to Libyan women and when it did they wrote fluff pieces. When the environment is less secure families are inclined to keep their daughters inside. Women aren’t allowed to move freely or attend events or workshops.

Nobody wanted to hear about a project that promotes women in the community. The reaction was always very cold. If you want something done do it yourself. So, we began recruiting from our book club and we started a team.

We were a group of passionate people, male and female, who were willing to dedicate time for this cause. The first month we launched we had mixed results.

Some loved us.
Some hated us.
Some trolled us.
Some laughed at us .

Some said, “What did you think you’re doing, promoting just Libyan women and raising awareness about women’s rights and struggles?”

Talking openly about issues and struggles is still a taboo; having a Libyan woman be public about all this with her name was still relatively new. At first we allowed guest posts under a pseudonym to encourage expression and it worked.

Nobody wanted to hear about a project that promotes women in the community. The reaction was always very cold. If you want something done do it yourself. So, we began recruiting from our book club and we started a team.

We were discussing workforce discrimination, women who were divorced and had issues from community, graduates who found themselves unemployed. We had hit a nerve, but we still couldn’t get them to talk openly. Our aim was to build a community.

We started at the end of November 2014 and launched on December 1st.

How many women help you run the Project? 

We are split into the online creative team, PS core team, and the on-the-ground volunteer team in addition to our community.

The online creative team is currently made out of 3 people . We are either making content (video, graphics, surveys, blog posts, etc.) or we’re looking for new Libyan women to showcase in our Snapchat channel.

Our PS core team is the one in charge of looking for funding, outreach in the community, organizing workshops, and writing proposals and grants. It’s currently 6 people but we’re growing.

12631526_560770584099895_7611174645968720242_nBecause it’s a volunteering effort we’ve recently reset our core team to introduce new blood and energy. We’ve adopted the Chayn rule of activity where we reassess our membership in times of inactivity. It’s proving to be very beneficial already.

We’ve had different people in the past, but because it’s all volunteer work people move on. We’re grateful for everyone who put in their time.

Our on the ground volunteer team is made out of currently 15-25 people. But we also ask our larger PS community to get involved if we have an event.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating the platform?

The most rewarding thing to me is meeting and getting to know women from all over Libya. I become invested in what they do and want to see them succeed and reach their goals.

Lately we’ve been working with Fezzan Libya group on getting more exposure on southern Libyan women in workshops and events and we’ve been able to make progress on this.

The most rewarding thing to me is meeting and getting to know women from all over Libya. I become invested in what they do and want to see them succeed and reach their goals.

One of our volunteers Lena who joined us recently talked about her experience with volunteering and how she benefited from helping others to a crowd of students. The feeling you get from seeing more young Libyan women faces in the community is priceless.

Have you received any backlash or harassment from the community about the founding of the platform? If so, how did you go about countering it? 

Yes, I was prepared for this backlash.

At first we got backlash due to people assuming we were following the western version of women empowerment. People assumed we would bring a cookie cutter approach to women empowerment.

Once they saw we had our own original creative innovative Libyan way to show them the amazing work women were doing in the community they accepted us and became supporters.

We had to build trust first.

The other type of backlash we received was from some males in society. They didn’t like that we were getting spotlight. They thought we were here to take away from their work instead of adding to it. It’s not a competition, we’re here to collaborate with everyone.

One comment from male activist was, “I don’t see people as men or women, why is your project differentiating?” This is what privilege does. When you have privilege you’re blind to the struggles of other people that have different experiences.

At first we got backlash due to people assuming we were following the western version of women’s empowerment. People assumed we would bring a cookie cutter approach to empowering women and girls. We had to build trust first.

PS isn’t here to choose one gender over the other. We are here to help make it an equal playing field. However, we did make clear that we would operate on a name and shame policy to attempt to reduce the number of harassment we got on social media.

You recently launched the Online Violence against Women in Libya reporting page, which is truly wonderful! How many reports have been made with the page and what is the feedback you’ve received from the women using it? 

We’ve started off slow and we plan on having a focus group to discuss why no one wants to fill in the VAW reporting tool. Currently we’ve only had 3 stories. One reply was people fear the word “reporting” and how they associate it with negative things.

Project Silphium anti-harassment

Even though we said all the names will be anonymous and we’re using it as a storytelling tool, the women are still scared. We’re not giving up though and we will just try another approach, and experiment with different language.

What are the main tools you use to help women talk about their rights and struggles, so they will feel more empowered?

We’ve found using examples of real life stories encourages others to talk about their experiences. We highlight the use of technology as a tool to decrease violence and harassment, in addition to highlighting women’s economical success in society.

We use success stories as an advocacy tool to get more women and youth involved in peaceful solutions to help the democratic transition. Our internal Facebook group for any questions or discussions within a women only safe environment. In order to get all these women to talk to each other we still needed a layer of privacy .

We started a network, and this network gave us credibility. It worked! Women were sharing their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions, their fears and found support from other women.

Topics such as online harassment, how to apply for jobs and scholarships, having a professional profile, and talking about the unpaid work women do are discussed.

Street harassment

It’s hard for women to meet in public spaces in large numbers due to harassment and other concerns, so this community of women online provided a real place to have important discussions with other women who are going through the same thing.

One of our initial projects was a mentoring scheme online, where we paired women with mentors who could help them attain scholarship or advise them on the application process.

Through our women’s group we also initiated Hour of Code Tripoli – Benghazi . We also managed to crowd-fund by getting local businesses to sponsor us and not have to use the long complicated process of NGO grants.

It’s hard for women to meet in public spaces in large numbers due to harassment and other concerns, so this community of women online provided a real place to have important discussions with other women who are going through the same thing.

Our second project was helping women get their voices heard through blogging workshops. We have held 2 workshops so far in Tripoli. Our most recent projects include an idea2company seminar for 250 people with a woman speaker.

Furthermore, our snapchat channel that showcases Libyan women in Libya and outside and shows their projects, businesses, and/or talents. Ultimately, we help women by providing a safe platform for them .

  1. We promote successful role models in the community
  2. We raise awareness on economic empowerment, violence against women in the society, online harassment and women’s rights issues, but in a way that doesn’t get us in trouble.

You’ve helped empower so many women in Libya, what tips would you like to share with women in Western countries so they will also raise their voices against harassment and violence against women?  

I’d say building trust with the community you’re working with is the number one thing you have to do first. Our community pre-2014 was exhausted with empty words of previous programs.

Another tip would be start delivering first and have low expectations. Don’t give up if at first no one pays attention to what you’re doing. Keep doing it, one day it will all come together.

Also, create content that matters to the people you’re trying to reach to build credibility. Look for the stories no one else tells and show your community the details that the mainstream media misses.

Don’t give up if at first no one pays attention to what you’re doing. Keep doing it, one day it will all come together.

A voice is an important thing and shouldn’t be wasted. If you have the freedom to speak freely on issues that are important to you don’t take it for granted.

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE TO PS PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING:
Project Silphium does not currently have an online donation system, as they have been relying on local donations until now. If you would like to donate, or if you want to know how you can get involved with PS,  please send an email directly to [email protected]. Thank you!

Khadeja Ramali

Geophysics graduate from Imperial College working and living in Libya. Co-founder/Director of Project Silphium. Khadeja is currently focusing on outreach in the community and building collaboration with other partners in Libya. In addition to these activities, Khadeja is a passionate advocate for increasing women participation in Libyan society using technology and is also a member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community. Follow her on Snapchat @womeninlibya.

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