Stay Informed

Your go-to source for the latest trends impacting gender justice and women’s rights around the world

The Libyan Youth Movement: Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow

AWID recently spoke with Ayat Mneina, co-founder of the Libyan Youth Movement, on the evolving civil war in Libya following the uprising, and subsequent fall of Gaddafi.

The Libyan Youth Movement is a youth-led and youth-focused social media and online-based initiative established just before the Libyan uprising. According to Mneina, “the main goal of the movement is to provide comprehensive support to the global community, including the international media, by enabling their access to verified reports, sources on the ground, and photos and video footage” as well as promoting the views and perspectives of Libyan youth.

Women’s rights in post-Gaddafi Libya

After the fall of Gaddafi in October 2011, visible progress was made in advancing Libyan women’s capacities and resources to mobilize freely. In 2012, Libya saw its first democratic election, prompting the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace to rally around a campaign that advocated for an increase in women’s representation in parliament. In response to these efforts, the National Transitional Council (NTC) revised the electoral law to “require ‘zippered’ candidate lists for political party seats, in which male and female names had to alternate, horizontally and vertically.”[1] This ultimately resulted in women winning nearly 17% of the total seats in the constitutional assembly.

Yet this period of euphoria began to decline when a myriad of Libyan armed groups emerged, forming what we now know as the ‘Nationalists’ and the ‘Islamists’ - marginalizing the inclusion of women, and making it increasingly dangerous for civil society activists to mobilize in public spaces. For instance, voices advocating for freedom and stability are met with assassination campaigns targeting security and police officials, as well as journalists, lawyers and activists. Prominent human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist Salwa Bughaighis was assassinated in her home in Benghazi in June 2014, for example – she was an outspoken critic of the militia groups.   In like manner, two young women, Aisha Sadiq and Marwa Amer, were murdered in broad daylight in Tripoli’s Gharghour this past November, when militias from the city of Misrata opened fire on protesters, resulting in the death of 42 people and injuring over 500. This attack emphasizes the danger women are facing in the capital – largely presumed to be safer than the rest of the country.  Yet despite the backlash, many activists refuse to back down, some even opting to operate from outside the Libyan borders in order to continue working.

The emergent civil war

The current conflict in Libya can be loosely characterized by two rival forces struggling for control - the democratically elected parliament and appointed government versus an alliance of Islamists called Libyan Dawn. Violent conflict erupted when the governing Islamist-majority General National Congress refused to step down at the end of their electoral mandate in January 2014. After being overwhelmingly defeated in new elections held in June, the Islamists rejected the elected internationally-recognised government and, along with other militia groups from Misrata, forcefully occupied Tripoli, and most of the western region of Libya, dividing the country in two.

Complicating matters further, the Libyan Supreme Court recently issued an ambiguous ruling that some, particularly Libya Dawn supporters, argue is a legal dissolution of the newly elected House of Representatives. At face value, the court contests a specific article regarding the installation of a presidential or prime ministerial leadership. However, Mneina notes that “the conditions surrounding the extension of this ruling to delegitimise the House of Representatives (HOR) are not as clear-cut as media and opposing forces have reported,” arguing that “prior to the House of Representatives being elected, the General National Congress (GNC) was ruled by consensus rather than majority, rendering it riddled in gridlock, advancing the agenda of Islamist dominant factions alone.” It also raises questions in regards to the judges who were replaced towards the end of the case; how this ruling was reached and what it means remain unclear.” In other words, “by intentionally throwing roadblocks in the path of the House of Representatives’ progress, Islamists wish to exhaust the country and the international community’s hope for democracy as a successful path for Libya.”

The emergent civil war has forced women and youth civil society organizations and movements to re-strategize and re-think how to advance their causes. Indeed, this past summer Libyan activists witnessed some of the bloodiest few months since the start of the uprising, with the assassination of prominent members of civil society. These deaths have fueled Libyan youth to continue mobilizing, working, and advocating for a just society. Indeed, the ‘I am Tawfik’ campaign seeks to collectively challenge those responsible for their continuous attempts to silence those who speak up against injustice in Libya. It calls on all interested participants to send a message to those who assassinated countless human rights defenders including Tawfik BensaudSalwa Bugaighis,Fariha BerkawiSami ElkawafiMuftah BuzeidAbdulsalam Al-Mismari.[3]

What’s next for Libya?

According to Mneina, to effectively combat extremism and fundamentalism in Libya two things must be addressed; the arms and sheer force that these groups currently possess, and the power this gives them. The first element requires the establishment of a Libyan national army that is accountable to a civil government. At the same time, efforts to disarm all factions must be employed in order to foster an open dialogue between opposing forces. Without this, no legitimate form of dialogue can take place. The second element requires that society differentiate these groups from the religious shroud that they are hiding behind.  As things stand, the lines between right and wrong are blurred when groups use religion as their mandate.  Extremists have gone under the radar for too long  because society has a difficult time differentiating what is 'religious'  and what is a serious abuse of religion in this context.  This not only requires a long-term strategy, but one that would begin by enforcing the of rule of law and constitution - both of which are vital for Libya's progress.

In conclusion, while the future of Libya may be uncertain, there is no denying that many Libyan women are collectively mobilizing and embracing alternative ways to help shape Libya’s policies, be it through online schools, initiating educational campaigns, or by lending their skills and efforts to Libya's transition. As Mneina notes, “we do not lack capable women . . . [our] voices will not be silenced and [our] voices will not only serve women, but Libya as a whole.”

[2] The political isolation law was forcefully passed by the GNC soon after the country's first elections. Indeed, the General Assembly was attacked, and its members assaulted by militias who forced the government and the elected parliament to act according to their own agenda, as they physically encircled parliament until it was adopted, in a session that was not headed by the house speaker. Indeed, it was a sweeping motion that isolated anyone who worked for the former regime in any capacity. See more:
West Asia