At this week's conference on Libya in Paris, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and the international community talk about "inclusiveness" in the new country's future. It seems strange, then, that half of the population - women - seem to be excluded from the discussions on the future of their country. It is not commonly known, but Libyan women started the revolution when the mothers, sisters and widows of prisoners killed in the 1996 Abu Salim massacre took to the streets in Benghazi on 15 February to protest outside the courthouse after their lawyer was arrested. Since then Libyan women at home and abroad have protested, smuggled arms beneath their clothing, founded countless civil society groups, tweeted, blogged, fed, nursed, mourned, mothered, raised funds and awareness, and sent in humanitarian aid and medical staff for the cause. Women have taken a central role alongside men and it has united us.
Libyan women may not have been visible on the streets with guns, but they have played an equally important role, displaying courage and strength that has been invaluable to the success of the country's revolution. Only now are some of the harrowing stories starting to emerge. We have seen the iconic images of Iman al-Obeidi, who spoke out about the sexual violence inflicted on so many who have otherwise suffered in silence; the elderly lady praising rebels at a lay-by and giving them her blessing; and Malak, the five-year-old amputee from Misrata – to name a few.
Libyan women will no doubt continue to play a vital part in the national reconciliation and rebuilding process, but the time has come for this role to be fully recognised, encouraging them to step forward. The Women for Libya campaign aims to mobilise and encourage Libyan women to take their rightful place and be included as equals for the purpose of shaping a better Libya. We do not want tokenistic representation. Women for Libya is calling for the full inclusion of Libya's female population in accordance with United Nations security council mandate 1325, which emphasises the important role women play in peacebuilding. We are also calling for: aid to be ringfenced to support women's rights; financial aid to be accessible to civil society and grassroots initiatives set up by women, for women; and negotiations and meetings on the future of Libya to be inclusive of all tribes and regional representatives, which should include sufficient numbers of women.
Sara Maziq, one of Women for Libya's founders, recently said: "We are facing an enormous challenge of rebuilding Libya and to exclude women is to ignore a vast resource for transitioning from conflict to stability. We can be a powerful unifying force in the aftermath of the conflict." Libyan women have created an intricate web of mutual co-ordination, and - whether resident in Libya or forced to live in exile - have been involved in nearly all aspects of the nation's uprising. Women are a beneficial and vital force in Libya's future. We must be openly and transparently included in discussions and supported to participate at all levels. To neglect this is to dishonour the legacy of the brave Libyan men and women who have given their lives for basic human rights. To exclude women is to exclude a vital force in the reconstruction of a stable, representative and democratic Libya.