When Libyans elected a new General National Congress, they voted for 33 women to serve in it – almost 17% of the Congress. Previous to this election, women in Libya had almost no history in civil society in the country.
Rihab Elhaj, a participant from Vital Voices’ MENA program, Support for Libyan Businesswomen and Entrepreneurs, shares her thoughts on these results and how women can be effective in their elected positions.
Libyan women now occupy 16% of the National Assembly seats, the majority of which were gained as a result of government policy. This does not mean that Libya is where it should be in regards to women’s political empowerment. But it does show that our political and civil society leaders understand the importance of women’s participation, and are willing to advocate for policies that will make it happen. I believe that the basic rights of all Libyans will increase as our young democracy grows, and I am optimistic that women will have a stronger voice within the new government.
If we want more women to participate in government, however, we need more than quotas alone. One of the most important ways that the government can help is by protecting women from violence and sexual harassment. Public spaces are not always women-friendly; harassment is very common, and discourages women from social and professional participation. Raising awareness about inappropriate conduct towards women, passing legislation that makes harassment punishable by law, and investing in infrastructural resources that take the safety needs of women into consideration are three simple ways that the government can positively impact Libyan women.
Outside of the government, there are other ways to improve women’s situations as well. For example, woman-to-woman empowerment is at the core of the relationships that I witness between successful Libyan women. The first step we must take in ensuring that our demands are heard is to educate women about their rights. We should also create a coalition of organizations that can serve Libyan women and partner with them on advocacy issues. Hopefully, we can design a campaign that will develop policy recommendations, and conduct media and public outreach regarding women’s rights and political participation in Libya.