Women on Libya’s future: disarmament and direct support to civil society the most urgent priorities

Women on Libya’s future: disarmament and direct support to civil society the most urgent priorities

“The struggle of the revolution is not over yet. The struggle for democratic constitution and institutions, with full participation of women and guarantees for women’s human rights is taking place right now. The international community’s encouragement and direct support to civil society are crucial in ensuring the revolution delivers a positive change for Libyan women” said Libyan women’s rights advocates in New York on 22 of February 2012.

Amina Mergheibi, President of the Attawasul Association for Youth, Women and Children of Free Libya and Alaa Murabit, founder of the Voice of Libyan Women, spoke of the situation in Libya and of Libyan women’s recommendations for the coming months in a meeting co-organised by the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. The meeting preceded the upcoming discussions of the Security Council on the mandate of the UN’s Support Mission to Libya, UNSMIL, which is to be renewed by 16 March 2012.

The first elections in Libya since 1965 are due to take place in June 2012. Despite strong lobbying by women’s groups, the new electoral law does not include a quota for women. Instead it encourages political parties to include women on the electoral lists. Amina Mergheibi stated she had no illusion of a smooth ride amid continuing security concerns and a conservative society. Only two out of the 24 ministers in the Transitional Government are women. Alaa Murabit emphasized the importance of the international community’s encouragement in this regard: the Security Council should explicitly call for measures to ensure women’s participation, including access to information, to the media and the electoral campaign. This is needed to combat the negative image of women’s participation in political life dating from the Gaddafi era.

Adurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Alaa Murabit, Amina Megheirbi, Liesl Gernholz and Jarmo Viinanen.Permanent Representative of Libya to the UN Adurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Alaa Murabit, Amina Megheirbi, director of Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division Liesl Gernholz and Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN Jarmo Viinanen.

Both Mergheibi and Murabit nominated disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of militias as the critical precondition for credible and inclusive democratic process. However, they noted that DDR can’t take place unless there is a national army able to provide stability and a government whose authority reaches all parts of the country. In most parts of the country insecurity is still an impediment to women’s movement. Murabit, for example, told she always gets home before dark and that driving is often too dangerous for women in a country where checkpoints are frequent and most people carry a gun.

Rebuilding of political and judicial institutions is an urgent priority. Mergheibi mentioned this can also be seen as an opportunity to build back better. Transitional justice and reconciliation process needs to move ahead to overcome the hostilities sown between different regions and towns by Gaddafi’s regime. Civil society and especially women’s groups could play a bridging role to heal relations between tribes and different geographical areas, but they need capacity-building after 42 years of lack of democracy and possibility of genuine participation.

Murabit called on the international community to pay attention to sexual and gender based violence and women’s economic empowerment. The media attention to rapes during the active conflict opened a space for discussion on violence against women. However, that space is closing again, as social stigma for abuses to be admitted is still strong and many families would rather not report sexual or gender based violence. There is no reporting mechanism, nor services for victims. As a long term strategy Murabit advocated for investing in women’s economic empowerment: women need to be able to sustain themselves to be truly free and truly equal. 

Ensuring implementation of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in Security Council’s country-specific work

At the tenth Anniversary of Resolution 1325 in October 2010 the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security compiled an analysis of how far we had come in its implementation. The analysis was clear: The Security Council has all the norms and tools at hand to make women’s rights and women’s participation in conflict and post-conflict situations a reality. Yet when it came to country-specific work of the Council, the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda was much more uneven.

The Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN has teamed up with the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security to try change that and help the Security Council ensure that women’s voices are genuinely heard when critical discussions take place and important decisions are made.

In partnership Finland and the NGO Working Group are going to arrange for advocates of women’s rights to come to UN Headquarters throughout 2012 to present women’s views and recommendations directly to the Security Council and other interested delegations and actors ahead of mandate renewals and most important country-specific discussions.

The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security serves as a bridge between women’s human rights defenders in conflict-affected situations and policy-makers at UN Headquarters. The NGO Working Group composed of 18 international non-governmental organisations advocates for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security and plays an important global role in monitoring policy and practice.