Written By Eman Awidat for our Expert Opinion series (find her bio below at the end of the article)
Women’s political participation does not generally only mean participation as candidates or voters, even though we consider this the ultimate participation and a big step towards achieving democracy. Libyan Women should be able to free take part in political, social and economic growth as well as civil society movements.
Women’s right to equal participation in building a sustainable future continues to be a struggle that’s getting in the way of achieving democratic and equal society.
The creation of many international resolutions on women rights that were ratified by Many Arab countries including Libya, was the start to preserving their political, social and civil rights.
Also, In most of the recent constitutional amendments in Arab countries, women’s part was recognized and valued and as a result those constitutions held no discrimination against their rights in participation in politics and they were granted the same rights and responsibilities as men. There are still some active laws supported by those governments that are preventing equality and favor men against women.
Religiously, when it comes to women rights, Islam is equal in many aspects. For example, men and women in Islam are required to do the same acts of worship, it also grants the same rights for both genders in ownership, freedom of speech etc.
Islam doesn’t favor a certain gender in its differences. Those differences are merely there to accommodate the natural dissimilarities between men and women. Islam has always been supportive of independence and emphasized on equality between genders.
The political participation of Libyan Women in the south of Libya:
The presence of certain traditions and beliefs in the south of Libya has left a negative effect on the participation of women in politics. Certain beliefs and traditional culture practices give men complete authority and deprive women of their participatory rights.
Since the independence of Libya in 1952, the south region of the country had a high illiteracy rate especially among women. Many women in the south did not have a proper education due to many barriers based on traditions in the area.
Even after all the changes that occurred since 2011, the male authority still remained and less women were given equal chances to higher or leading positions in any of the changing governments. The domination of men over all powerful positions and the governments’ inability to be inclusive has made women lose faith in them.
During the elections women faced many obstacles caused by some peoples disapproval of having female candidates in the elections, many of their posters were torn or taken down because they show their pictures and that, in the minds of those people is unacceptable religiously and traditionally and they also received targeted hate speech on social media.
Despite the difficult times that women in the south of Libya are going through, they continue to take part in civil society work supporting many NGO’s which serves as evidence of their interest in political changes.
In the 2012 elections, the numbers of registered voters of both men and women reached a peak of around 61% which showed people’s enthusiasm towards achieving a democratic voting experience.
In 2012 (GNC elections) Women made up 45% of all registered voters in 6 election areas.
In 2014 (HNEC elections) women made up 41%.
In 2014 (LHRC elections) women made up 40%.
In a comparison we find that women in the Libyan south have shown great enthusiasm and large participation in the elections if compared with some of the cities in the North of the country, for instance, Ubari area scored the highest percentage of female participants at 51% while Al-Khoms had 36%.
To reach a better understanding of the involvement of women in the political process, data is collected from municipalities that are headed by women and since political success on a national level often results from a smaller success on a local level, women need to be adequately represented. otherwise the number of women representatives would decrease greatly.
According to law 59 for local administration members are elected through a secret voting system and must elect at least one woman and one disabled representative and we notice here that the way the law is designed implies that at least one woman should be chosen, which translates to allowing women to compete for more than one seat which is not what had happened since one woman was elected for each municipality and there is no change in that number with the difference in population between different municipalities.
Difficulties and challenges faced by female politicians in the Libyan south:
Despite successful participation of female politicians in the south, they still struggle to with the societal stereotype of women in politics being out of the norm.
One of the challenges faced by these women in political parties is the fear of these parties of nominating women as their representatives as it is viewed as an adventure for fear of the religious beliefs and misogyny costing them the votes of most men.
Due to the absence of previous political experience many women participants have not established clear participation plan and have chosen broad slogans and relied mainly on their personal reputation within their respective areas.
Few of the participants have used very simple tools as posters in the streets and online forums to attract the attention of voters.
Female candidates expressed they felt pressured and discouraged even by family members and friends who don’t believe women belong in politics and who felt that her participation in this field would negatively affect her reputation and get in the way of marriage.
The election posters of many female candidates were vandalized repeatedly, their faces were painted over and some were torn down altogether while the men’s posters were left unharmed.
In Sebha, some female candidates chose not to share their picture in their posters knowing that it could cause a disruption in a community that isn’t exactly open to having pictures of women up in open squares across town, but even those posters were vandalized.
One evening before the elections, a candidate from Sebha was handing out her election brochure to passers and chanting “support women” only to hear a man reply saying “a woman’s place is at home”.
The portion of female adults that voted reached 39%, yet most of the female voters rejected the idea of voting for women and supported men instead which resulted in women only winning one seat. This sign of distrust towards their own gender might be a reflection of sexism and male privilege in this society.
Women candidates went from making up 19% in GNC elections in 2012 to 9% in the LHR elections in 2014.
The lack of security in Libya, especially in the south of the country has become a major obstacle that’s facing women causing the decline of their participation in all political procedures. certain safety measures need to be achieved immediately to have women actively participate at all levels socially and politically, with no threats to their well-being.
The Libyan community must understand the significance of women’s role in building a developed country. Women’s participation in decision-making should be encouraged and their work should not be dismissed or ridiculed.
Major changes need to be made to increase participation in all legislative bodies, for example a gender quota system should be considered to ensure that women constitute a fair percentage of the members of a body of the government. To be able to support women leaders in decision making roles, their attributes to the success of a government should be shared with the public and the recruitment process should be transparent.
To empower women, we need to educate the society about the importance of her inclusion in the political process.
We need to set laws that support gender equality in all aspects, that guard human rights and empower the legal system. Those changes will positively affect the role of women in politics.
Engaging men in gender awareness and having them understand that women empowerment will improve mutual understanding and skills and develop competencies necessary to building an inclusive and equal society.
The security situation should be made priority and challenges holding women back should be taken into consideration.
A Gender quota system should be applied aiming to achieve at least 30% to guarantee real inclusion in decision making.
The international movements supporting women networks in Libya should be acknowledge for their work and allowed to have easier contact with citizens.
The media and educational institutions should install awareness about gender inequality and the stereotypical image of women in leadership roles.