Nov. 6, 2013, 12:14 p.m.
On 5 November 2013, IFES hosted a panel discussion on the current status of women's empowerment in Libya. The findings of IFES’s recent survey on the subject were presented, and current trends, hopes, and challenges were discussed. Panelists included IFES staff members working on women’s inclusion and empowerment in the region as well as a Libyan women’s rights advocate.
Despite their integral role in the revolution and their growing aspirations for political empowerment, women in Libya continue to face obstacles toward further civic participation. The report published by IFES based on the survey results highlights the pressure that cultural norms and security concerns continue to exert on Libyan women, preventing them from playing a larger role in shaping their country’s political future.
The survey, conducted from December 2012 to January 2013, was the first nationwide survey of the Libyan population since the uprising. Questions posed to women and men across the country attempted to gain insight into Libyans’ views on what they believed to be the proper political, economic, and social roles for women in Libyan society.
As Rola Abdul-Latif, author of the report, explained, a contrast currently exists in Libya between the widespread interest in politics among women on one hand, and the low levels of women’s participation in civic engagement activities (such as voting, protesting, joining political organizations, or utilizing social media) on the other. For example, while 71 percent of female respondents indicated that they were interested in political matters, a majority claimed they would never sign a political petition, participate in a demonstration, or contact a representative. The results imply that roadblocks exist in Libya for women to become more active citizens. One such roadblock is illustrated by the majority of female respondents who admitted that they are restricted from leaving the home without male supervision, and the majority of male respondents who replied that domestic violence was justified in cases when their wives leave the house without permission. These restrictions reflect Libya’s conservatism, but have also been made worse by the fragile and deteriorating security situation in the country.
Other panelists discussed the effect the electoral system will have on women’s participation in government. A quota or a provision for female candidates’ inclusion in party lists helps ensure women a minimum level of representation and allows constituents to become more comfortable with the idea of having female representatives. However, quotas must be supported by a more robust engagement to encourage women to run for office and to combat existing prejudices against them.
Lastly, panelists offered some recommendations for further engagement with women in Libya, including making programs more accessible to women who lack full freedom of movement, providing more technical support for transparency and transitional justice measures, integrating men and boys into programs to raise awareness and sensitivity to women’s exclusion, and better coordinating projects across regions to bridge regional differences.
The status of women in Libya faces intense challenges in the years ahead as the idealism of the revolution gives way to harsh cultural and political realities. Yet the survey results clearly show that both men and women continue to be optimistic about the possibility of improved women’s rights in the new state. This optimism will be critical to maintaining momentum and achieving progress in the future.
(Image Credit: npr.org)