Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya: Let's not forget the women

I have to say that it is very good to see that Col Gaddafi and his Green Book appear to be on a very shoogly peg this morning. Why Tony Blair ever thought it was a good idea to bring this man in from international ostracisation is beyond me. We can only hope that the International Criminal Court is going to be kept very busy with big files marked "Gaddafi" for the foreseeable future. The man himself is nowhere to be found, although two of his sons have been captured as rebel forces entered Tripoli to remarkably little resistance.

I'm never one for counting chickens, but this has to be a positive development.

Amid the rejoicing and planning for a post Gaddafi Libya, though, I think it's important to remember the women. Politicians, even those on our side, aren't always good at identifying and talking about issues affecting women. I am fairly sure that Nick Clegg, when he makes eminently sensible remarks to the British Council later today, won't specifically mention women. I single him out but earlier this year, the UN Security Council had a telling off from the UN's special envoy on sexual violence for not mentioning that specific danger in its resolutions.

I've found a couple of interesting articles about issues affecting women in Libya. The first is from the Libya Youth Movement in May this year and it talks about how women may well have been involved in the initial uprising in February, but they are far from powerful within rebel leadership:

Early in the rebellion, the shrill ululating of women mixed with the sound of gunfire celebrating victories over Gaddafi’s forces that prised the region from his grip in mid-February.
Women sat in the rebel headquarters planning their next moves, often taking the lead in speaking to the media and discussing with male rebel leaders their vision for a new Libya.
A group of female lawyers were conspicuous in the first meetings aimed at organising the rebel efforts, the eloquent and bi-lingual women mobbed by reporters after emerging from the closed-door sessions.
One of those women, lawyer Salwa Bugaighis, said she was unhappy that the national council now contained just five women out of 50 or so members.
“Maybe it will take some time to change the mentality, to be a leader, to be in a higher position

The second by Libyan-American journalist and activist Yusra Tekbali discusses the role of women in the revolution and how women's groups are planning for life after Gaddafi:

Zahra Langhi, coordinator of the Cairo-based activist group Friends of Free Libya, organized several workshops and forums that addressed the social, intellectual and bureaucratic vacuum in Libya.  At a recent workshop I attended on developing Libya’s civil infrastructure, Langhi said,  “Women are the center of Libyan society. After the psychology of fear was broken, mothers were encouraging their husbands and sons to go out and fight Gaddafi, which is the biggest change we have seen. ”
There are countless other Libyan women who demonstrate courage and leadership, and competence and humanity, with their work and efforts to support the Libyan people. Now that women are beginning to organize and participate in rebuilding Libya, we can expect to see more organizations spring up. The support from the broader Libyan society-inside and outside Libya- will be critical in the success of these organizations, as they evolve and find their footing in Free Libya.

International women's organisations, including UN Women will have a crucial role in this.

Obviously everyone, male or female, benefits from Gaddafi going, but it's important that the new Libya is founded on a more equal basis. The signs aren't altogether positive on that one so it's one to keep an eye on and our Government must encourage the international community to support women's rights in Libya and elsewhere.

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