I’m sitting at a round table discussion with other activists from across the country. We’re discussing the main problems faced by youth, pinpointing and categorizing which issues directly affected us. There’s the usual stuff; unemployment, corruption, the deadly presence of militias. One girl quips, “Don’t forget about women’s rights!” One of the men scoffs, saying, “What rights do you need? You already have rights!”
Yes, we do have rights. But we also have social stigmas that limit women. The unfortunate but often understated truth is that, in Libya, the fight for women’s rights still has a long way to go.
Now, it bears mentioning that the men of the group had accepted that this was a key issue, and that there are Libyan men who understand the importance of women’s rights in our society. But that one guy’s comments reflect a portion of the population (men and women) who feel that women’s rights are not a pressing, or in fact even a necessary, issue.
“We are suffering from terrorists and weapons proliferation and a multitude of other problems,” they wail. “This is not the time to talk about societal grievances!”
Except, if there were more women actively involved in decision and policy-making in the country, would Libya currently be in the predicament it’s in? What is one of the defining traits of our government (besides incompetence)? Well, it’s comprised predominantly of men. Farida Al-Alagi was set to become our Foreign Minister, the first Arab woman to do so. However, after a reshuffle, she was instead placed in a token ambassadorial position. She certainly isn’t less qualified than the person they replaced her with.
However, the issue goes much deeper than political representation and participation. A lot of people react negatively to terms like “feminism” and “equality” because they think it’s all about copying whatever Western countries are doing. But the issue of women’s rights is not about adopting a specific country’s cultural norms. It’s about female empowerment, letting women know that they don’t have to settle for a status quo that leaves them dependent and helpless. Let’s be honest, the status quo for women in Libya sucks.
There’s a disparity between what’s written in the law books and the reality on the ground. A woman can, for instance, become a pilot in Libya. But she will face an onslaught of criticism for choosing this line of work, and this applies to many jobs. “What will people think?” is the culprit mentality that’s stalling much of our development.
The question that the man at the round table discussion asked is a reflection of ignorance at this disparity. ‘What rights do you need?’ Well, off the top of my head, I’d say: the right to equal opportunities, the right to self-determination and the right to social protection. In short, the right to achieve my full potential as a human being. Anything and everything that can help women become less vulnerable and take charge of their lives will be a huge advantage for society at large; politically, culturally and economically.
I’ll never forget the day one of my friends came up to me and told me she was getting married in three weeks. She was going to stop studying at university for this, and return once she had “settled into” married life (how many times have you heard that before?) I was incredulous because I didn’t even know she was engaged. “Well, my dad kind of arranged it all, it happened very quickly. I’ve only met the guy once,” she smiled sadly.
It breaks my heart that many women resign themselves to this unknown fate, often times because it’s the only way they can get out of their parent’s house. Now, I’ve known women whose lives have been improved by marriage and those whose lives have been made worse. The point is, this shouldn’t have to be our only option.
A 2013 study of women’s rights in the MENA by the Thomson Reuters Foundation showed that Libya ranked #9 out of the 22 countries in the region. Many think that this is decent position considering our overall situation, and it’s good to acknowledge the positive. But we’re still being ranked against pretty low standards, and I know Libya could do better. So much better.
So I ask you, should a woman put marriage before her education? Should she be placed in a position where she has little control over her future? Should women have little say in the shaping of the country? If your answer to these questions is no, then you support women’s rights.
Written By : N.F
Note : The photo attached in article, is portrait by the Dutch Artist Gabriel Metsu, called “ The Sick Girl ”. The style of painting is Baroque . It is equivalent to the state of women in Libyan society . The crying women in real life resembles the role of everyone who turns a blind eye to the crimes committed against women in our country.