Due to recent media attention painting a negative picture on certain incidents related to women's rights issues in Libya which are undermining the progress that has been made in this area, I would like to highlight some positive progress.
This progress that has been made has not only been in the visible changes, but also the changes achieved in mentality and the importance of women's inclusion in decision-making.
A matter of months ago, it would have been an idealistic dream to even be discussing the importance and mechanism of women's involvement in public life in Libya. The fact that the importance of women's roles are now being highlighted and fought for by not only Libyan women, but Libyan men as well is a landmark of progression and growth. It is a realization of the ultimate values of equality that this revolution is being built on.
Unfortunately media is quick to disregard input from activists on the ground, who have traveled the country safely numerous times and done work in regards to women's political, social and economic rights. This has been done not only with the blessing of the local communities but more importantly with the active and enthusiastic support of the women and men in these communities.
Despite there being no threats or issues, brigades in Zawia guard our women's center, voluntarily and even in winter, for which we are thankful. They repeatedly tell us they are there to guard so that they may show us “support in the way they know how”. I had personally, months ago, faced increasingly vicious threats from an individual.
Ultimately it was a local brigade which assisted me and determined this persons motives – which were not based on my work in women's rights, but instead my family's role during the revolution – and the license plate on my car.
At our NGO The Voice of Libyan Women many of our programs incorporate religious foundations, and the reason for this is because women's rights issues in Libya are rooted in a lack of Islamic education and knowledge more than anything else. We have to understand that we are first and foremost an Islamic country and that our ability to achieve our realizations is only through a better understanding of that religion, and not through simply following the culture.
We can say that we will entice women to get more economically, politically or socially involved, however without understanding that Islam supports and pushes these women to do so, Libyan society as a whole will not support it.
Our ultimate challenge is re-educating ourselves on Islam, and allowing growth and understanding within the understanding that our religion is one which allows for the full rights of ALL people. It is our own man-made culture and traditions, as well as recently imported ideals, which hinder our growth as not only women, but Libyans as a whole.
Recently those at The Voice of Libyan Women have come under fire in international media for expressing the aforementioned beliefs and values. Our members are constantly on the ground, hearing the opinions of Libyan women and men and represent them to the best of their ability to the media.
On behalf of my organization I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the positives – the immeasurably effective work being done on every level by numerous civil society organizations. I would also like to thank all those who have supported us, trusted in us, given us recommendations, criticisms, and ideas.
We hope you will continue to actively engage with us and that you continue with us on this journey, as we know we have only just begun to take on a massive task and responsibility.