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On July 7, 2012, Libyans finally voted for the first time since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. They elected a new General National Congress as part of efforts to create a new political system. This congress will have legislative powers, and might be charged with forming a body to draft up the country’s new constitution. 

Omnia Etayari, a participant from Vital Voices’ MENA program, Support for Libyan Businesswomen and Entrepreneurs, shares her thoughts on the election and what it means for the future of her country. 

I am very optimistic that women will have a stronger voice in Libya’s new government. Women now hold government positions, and, with a few exceptions, their rights are well-respected by Libyan law. 

Right now, the biggest issue facing Libyan women isn’t related to participation in government; instead, it has to do with security and law enforcement. Because of the lack of security, women aren’t able to act freely. The lack of security in Libya now is preventing women from conducting many activities freely without needing to have “guards” by their side. In addition, violence in the streets, either physical or verbal, could sometimes prevent them from even going out to do the simplest errands.

Along these lines, most Libyan women are taught to hand over responsibilities to men, and most Libyan men feel insulted if women take control or make decisions without a man’s approval. This makes men resistant to giving women more power. 

Empowering women is the most important way to guarantee their rights. We need to encourage society to mobilize women to become strong enough to take the lead, and we also need to encourage men to be confident enough to support them! This starts with our children. We must encourage parents to teach their children that responsibility and decision-making should not be based on gender, but based on qualification. They must learn that education, job opportunities, and rights should be equally available for everyone.

Change won’t happen on its own. If Libyan women want to ensure that their demands are heard and their rights are respected in the long term, they need to be the change they want to see in society! First, they must transform themselves, their families, and communities to exemplify women’s progress and empowerment. Next, women must support each other, in order to promote women’s rights and thereby elevate society to the next level.