By Charlotte Morgan and Stacey Schamber
The Libyan Women’s Forum (LWF), member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL), invited their colleague and Libyan parliamentarian, Ibtesam Al Rubai, to join the WASL weekly community call on July 20, 2022 to discuss the situation in Libya. Ms. Al Rubai, a lawyer by training, was appointed as a judge in 2020, and recently joined the Women’s Caucus Unit established by the Libyan parliament.
After the 2011 uprising, Libyan women actively sought to participate in political and public life, reaching 17% representation in parliament. However, the international withdrawal and lack of subsequent support to Libya post-2014 precipitated the deterioration of security and increased militarization. The increasing control and conflict among various militant groups has excluded women from public life and condoned widespread violence. Women and girls experience gender-based violence in the domestic and public spheres. In the week prior to the call, shockingly seven women were reported murdered.
Ms. Al Rubai described ubiquitous acceptance of violence, particularly among the younger generation, which prohibits public discourse, media coverage and condemnation of such violence. She reiterated the need for legislation protecting women from violence perpetrated by their husbands, fathers and brothers: “This law has been sitting in the drawers, held up in the parliament for the last two years.” There is still the legal provision that allows rapists to marry their victims in order to escape punishment, and existing law, which criminalizes violence against women, is rarely called upon to prevent or convict perpetrators.
There is still the legal provision that allows rapists to marry their victims in order to escape punishment.
In addition, Ms. Al Rubai has witnessed increased violence and threats against women peacebuilders (WPBs), activists and women human rights defenders (WHRDs). Many women are targeted for speaking out, advocating for peace and for criticising the use of violence by the dominant political parties and militias. They fear for their security and if they are able, often leave Tripoli and Libya itself with their families. The violence against WPBs and WHRDs in Libya has caused many to retreat from participating in political life and civil society, resulting in a drawback of many of the hard-won gains in women’s rights.
The profound impunity and lack of political will within Libya to protect women and mitigate violence becomes glaringly abject at the international level. Any foreign attention or intervention in Libya is preoccupied with political and economic issues and access to natural resources like oil. As Shahrazad Magrabi of the LWF commented, “I’m surprised that the human rights leaders in this world, for example, the UK, US, the only intervention and talk is about oil problems or shortages. Seven women were killed in one week, where is the UK ambassador?”
Any foreign attention or intervention in Libya is preoccupied with political and economic issues and access to natural resources.
ICAN’s founder and CEO, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, MBE concurred that we cannot rely on any response from the UN or international institutions. Rather, we need to generate awareness by drawing on tribal, religious, historical, traditional customs that can be brought back to life around protection and respect for women. For example, one WASL member from Afghanistan brought men into the conversation to discuss their experiences of violence in order to open the door to more conducive conversations around violence against women within their communities. Another network member in Iraq implemented an initiative in which WPBs engaged with sympathetic local religious and community leaders to challenge practices that were harmful to women. In Ms. Anderlini’s words, “the strategy is not from top-down and not from governments; it really has to be community by community, engaging leaders and influencers.”
Concluding the call, Ms. Al Rubai expressed her gratitude for the solidarity experienced through the WASL community. She also called upon the international community to pressure the Libyan government to address the significant levels of violence, as well as provide financial support and training. Shahrazad Magrabi advised: “we need to leave the parliamentarians to do their jobs and to focus their pressure on the executive bodies of political parties. This is crucial.”