4 February 2013

Libya: Encouraging Libyan Women to Play a Greater Role in Politics

Photo: Kate Thomas/IRIN
Women at Friday prayers in Benghazi. Out of the 200 members of Libya's current parliament, 30 are women.

Tripoli — In July last year Libya held its first free elections in almost 40 years, following the death of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Around thirty women were elected to become members of parliament. Their success has spurred other women on to become politically involved. RFI met some of these women in Tripoli and Zawiyah.

Dozens of women are sitting in a circle and the conversation is heating up at this women's centre in Zawiyah, some 50 km west of the capital, Tripoli.

While the level of education rose under Kadhafi, who often said he was a defender of women's rights, for many Libyan women, that was only in theory.

Alaa Murabit, president of the association, The Voice of Libyan Women, said a meeting like the one here today would never have been allowed to happen under Kadhafi:

"Ultimately I think those who assume there were rights in the time of Kadhafi, definitely haven't spoken to women who have lived under the time of Kadhafi. For me just having this conversation with women simply sitting in a room [.....] talking about politics but even talking about economy, fair economy would have been considered wrong."

THE BATTLE FOR LIBYA

With English classes and political discussion, the centre is empowering women and helping them to raise their voices.

There are fears that the rise of Islamism, following the death of Kadhafi, could contribute to reducing the role of women in politics. Alaa Murabit, however, thinks women can play a significant role even in an Islamist society:

"A lot of people point to you so-called islamism, and I think that's very much a western-owned idea and mentality.

If you speak to the average Libyan woman, she will tell you that she strongly embraces her religion and finds her rights within her religion and it's not necessarily the religion but the interpretation of the religion and the use of that religion politically. We need to re educate ourselves to the rights that our own religion gives us."

Out of the 200 members of parliament currently, 30 are women.

These women were helped by a law that obliged political parties to field at least 50 percent of female candidates.

Social affairs minister, Kamila Khamis Al-Mazini, is one of only two female cabinet ministers in the current government:

"It's not enough to have a woman minister of tourism or a woman minister of social affairs. Women don't have to be linked to social affairs and only to social affairs. In the future we should have women at the head of sovereign ministries."

For Khamis Al-Mazini, it's the conservative nature of Libyan society that hinders women's from entering politics. Women deserve more, she says:

"Women are half of the population so they should at least be present at 50%. There should at least be 4 or 5 women ministers in the future, not only two!"

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