Zahra’ Langhi, Co-founder and Director of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace
When I saw what social media achieved in Egypt in 2011, I decided to use Facebook to start calling for a day of rage in Libya. But now I regret calling for a day of rage. Now I think we should be calling for days and nights of compassion.
Rage alone is not the solution. It takes more than rage to reform our lives and make them better, to have the values that the uprisings were for, to have justice and dignity. It needs compassion. That’s what we missed in our revolution: it was all centered around rage, and if we continue with this rage-centered discourse, it will not get us anywhere. Only destruction will prevail.
In the aftermath of the revolution, systematic exclusion of women was evident, despite the role they played in the uprising. This is in fact is what inspired thirty-five leading Libyan women to set up the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP) in October 2011. The movement pioneered reforms to the proposed electoral system, with the implementation of a vertical and horizontal zipper system in Libya’s first parliamentary elections in decades, which saw women achieve a hard-won 17.5 percent of the vote. However, before the parliament — the General National Congress (GNC) — had even convened for the first time, a wave of violence spread across Libya. Assassinations of army officers, a rise of militant ideas, disrespect for the rule of law and the rise of armed groups were accompanied by a string of violations of human rights, including the emergence of secret prisons outside any state control. Within weeks of the GNC’s first meeting, the United States Ambassador, Chris Stevens, was murdered by militants in Benghazi. These were all signs that the international community’s toolkit for democratic transition does not work in the Libyan context, and does not work in any context unless you address the root causes. It was not enough to fight to have elections, and not enough to fight for a quota for gender representation in that election.
Women MPs then discovered that the use of militia intimidation in the political setting undermined the GNC’s legislative capacity from the outset, crippling their power. Two of the founding members of the LWPP won seats and they were also members of the Human Rights Committee. However, they were often threatened by colleagues, some of who were militia leaders. The outcome of votes on new legislation were therefore often the result of threats, casting doubt on the effectiveness not only of the Congress itself, but also of the whole system that put it in place.
The question of women’s representation in a democracy that has no arms control has proven to us to be a hypocrisy. Elections alone do not help in bringing about, in a democracy, a woman’s empowerment. It takes addressing the real issues including militarization, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration of armed revolutionaries, and no impunity for warlords.
In an effort headed by the Special Representative for Libya, Bernadino Leon, the UN is pushing hard for a political solution to Libya’s fledgling democracy that is fast-unraveling amid a fractured and incoherent civil war, fueled by a complex set of ideological, political, regional and tribal allegiances. However, I cannot see that Libya’s problems will be resolved if only a power-sharing national unity government is formed. The international community insists that there can only be a political solution, but the answer is more complicated because the situation is complicated. It’s not an either/or political or military solution. It’s more than that. It’s humanitarian as well.
Yes, there is indeed a need to put an end to the political fragmentation. There is also an urgent need to consolidate all efforts of reconciliation in order to reach a national consensus as soon as possible to confront the unprecedented security, political and economic deterioration. It’s time to make compromises and reach consensus. Not addressing the root causes and issues including transitional justice, ending impunity and demilitarization, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of armed groups (DDRR) with full international support and guarantees will only result in a fragile peace which would only last for a short while.
I do believe that the 2011 uprising was an important moment in the history of Libyan women and youth. What we’ve seen afterwards has been systematic exclusion and political violence against women. However, the irreversible empowerment that took place at the beginning of the revolution, on many levels, is not only political; it is also existential and social. Women can never go back to where we were before the revolution.
All these kinds of political violence against our friends make us more determined. There will be losses and sacrifices, but these sacrifices will pave the way to the real empowerment of women.