Jusoor’s Discussion: Libyan women are demanding real change in the field of work

“The Labor Day is more than a public holiday. It is, in fact, a continuous reminder of the struggle of workers throughout history. It should also be an occasion for reviewing the workers’ situation and trying to bring about the necessary changes to improve the working environment. “

These were the words used by Ms. Hala Bugaighis (founding member and director of the Jusoor Center for Studies and Development) to open the first panel discussion conducted by the center in collaboration with the Atwar organization for Social Research and Development on the occasion of the International labor Day. Twelve Libyan women from the banking sector, public institutions, and the private sector gathered in the panel discussion. The panel discussion was not limited only to working women, new graduates looking for a job also joined in. Despite the power outage, the debate continued in an effective and vigorous way. The general atmosphere was characterized by spontaneity and the exchange of views by credibility.

The goal behind the panel discussion was shedding the light on Libyan women in the field of employment. The focus was put on three main topics for discussion:

  • The stereotypical image of working women
  • The socio-cultural restrictions
  • The extent to which women benefit from the legal protection and the services provided by the competent authorities

The stereotypical image of working women

This theme focused on trying to understand the stereotypes of society’s perception of Libyan women in the fields of work, and the generalizations that limit the advancement of women in the workplace. Women attendees agreed unanimously that they had been subject to prejudices in the work because of the stereotypes of women regardless of their personal abilities. It should be noted that these prejudices were made by men and women alike. The participants agreed that the most frequent stereotypes are the following:

- Unmarried girls are looking for a chance to get married.

- Married women give greater attention to housework.

- Women are each other’s enemy.

- Women are only good for administrative and secretarial office work.

In addition, Dr. Intissar Attia “a medical representative in a pharmaceutical company,” drew the attention to an important point concerning the stereotypes that consider women’s work as luxury as she is not required to pay for the household expenses. Therefore, priority should be given to men when taking jobs. “This is, in fact, a false generalization, as the work of women is essential for many families to contribute to the improvement of their economic condition,” said Intissar.

Furthermore, most of the participants agreed that working women are struggling to prove themselves and their abilities (which are acquired through scientific qualifications or are based on professional experience) and which are seldom taken seriously despite their full dedication to the work assigned to them. This is what may adversely affect their career progress.

The socio-cultural restrictions

“I once had to refuse a job of managing director for fear of harm to reputation and defamation.”

This is how engineer Asma Salim bitterly described the way she avoided advancement and promotion in her career particularly as she is single which makes her more susceptible to gossip and rumors. She added, “Although I am highly qualified, I pay much attention to my reputation, and I’m trying to avoid any suspicions that may affect my social status”. Asma’s case embodies the strength and influence of these social attitudes that reject and refuse women in leadership positions. This attitude, in fact, is forcing many women to bind to the pressure in order to avoid being subject to any criticism or defamation.

Ms. Abir Zoghbia, managing-director of treasury in the Sahara Bank and former member of the administrative board of the Sahara Bank added in the same context: “I was victim of a lot of harassment during my years of the work in the bank; some people were trying to impede my academic as well as professional achievements. Often times I felt frustrated and repeatedly aggrieved. But that did not stop me from continuing to work in order to achieve higher ranks because I feel responsible and I think that we must be self-confident, and fight stereotypes and prejudices to pave the ground for future generations of women despite all the difficulties. “

This speech made by Ms. Abir was warmly applauded by the attendees as a way to pay tribute to her positive attitude that will lead to a brighter future for Libyan women.

Another challenge is seen as a determining factor in the lives of working women. In fact, the female participants raised the issue of “social obligations”, and how they constitute a significant challenge to women regardless of their social status. Then, all the participants agreed that generally speaking social and family obligations make it very difficult to achieve balance between work and family life. There are, in fact, many family and social obligations that lead to imbalance and cause stress in working women’s lives.

It seems that it is indisputable, as agreed by all attendees, that any woman shall have the right to achieve her ambition, get her own salary, enjoy financial independence and get the credit she deserves for her achievements at work regardless of the financial situation of her family.

One of the new graduates from the Tripoli Faculty -the University Of Engineering- Department Of Petroleum- shared her experience with us. She worked as an apprentice in one of the national institutions working in the same field. She said: “I left a dream job opportunity and I’m not sorry for that. In fact, I was not assessed according to my abilities and my qualifications but I was rather seen as a young girl and the goal of my life should rather be finding a husband and not a job. “

Some of the participants confirmed hearing similar comments whether at work or in the social environment. And that the demand for marrying working women depends on their jobs. A “simple” job that does not require many commitments or long hours of work is always preferred as a condition for marriage!!!

The extent to which women benefit from legal protection

The discussion under this heading was centered on the way and the extent to which the female participants understand the advantages granted to them by law and the extent to which they actually benefit from them. Yet, due to time constraints, this session was shortened and postponed to the next discussion panel. This will give us the opportunity to focus extensively and in details on the positive and negative aspects of the legal perspective.

During this discussion we addressed the following issues:

• Procedures for job searches: The new graduate attendees confirmed that they were unaware of the existence of a mechanism that provides services for job seekers under the Ministry of Work. They also asserted that they have never before used or profited from similar services provided by the State. They said that they were recruited based on their personal efforts or on direct ads from employers. We concluded that the reasons for lack of interest in these services and for not trying to know how to profit from them is that some people did not believe in the effectiveness of this procedure and do not see it as a solution to the problem of employment.

Travel companion:
Engineer Aisha Sibai saw this problem as one of the serious obstacles to the career advancement and the training development of women. In fact, there is no clear legal provision that guarantees a “financial allowance to cover the expenses of a companion” to working women who need training abroad. This will put additional financial strain on the employee who will have to pay the travel costs. And thus she will waive most of the trainings being unable to pay the financial costs associated with it.

This crucial issue was faced with various reactions. Some participants were for and others were against. Mrs. Nouria Bugaighis “director of project management at the Saray Trade and Investment Bank “ intervened in response to the proposed idea of ​​setting regulations and laws to cover the expense of the companion by saying “You cannot ask for equal opportunities before law and then demand a privilege that is not granted to male colleagues. This is contrary to the principle of equal treatment that we aspire to reach in all laws. “

Others, on the contrary, felt that the issue of companion is not considered a problem when traveling for an important official work. They also see that insisting on the idea that a companion is necessary to preserve the society’s perception may enhance the anti-women’s work culture in these areas as it denies the conservative aspect to families who allow travelling without companion. This is what you should work to change rather than strengthen by the enactment of such laws.

It was concluded from this point that this sensitive debate must be re-opened after reviewing laws and regulations to ensure that the dialogue will be based on scientific grounds and be more detailed in the next panel discussion.

Workplaces do not support women: Ms. Abir Zoghbia noted that the non-application of the Libyan labor law regarding women is one of the main reasons that led to the women’s non competiveness for leadership positions and she gave the example of providing places for child nursery, as it is expressly stated in the provisions of the labor law, which is considered one of the reasons of the disequilibrium between work and personal life for women and a factor that leads them to prefer the simple administrative work to be able to reconcile the personal and work obligations.

Some of the recommendations demanded by the women at the end of the panel discussion included a claim of some radical changes in certain laws and cultural change in society in general and especially in practical areas, in addition to some improvements in the work environment. These demands are summarized in the following points:

1. Creating channels of communication between the working women which serve as a platform to discuss issues related to the improvement of women’s working conditions in all areas and provide support and assistance to some of them (this is one of Jusoor Center projects that will be announced soon).

2. Working on the demand to activate and modify some of the regulations and the texts of laws as most of the Libyan regulations and laws do not distinguish between employees and focus on the establishment of the competence principle. Nevertheless, most of these laws can be implemented only if they are organized by legal executive regulations which are not open to interpretation.

3. The participants have agreed that it is time for collaboration and unifying efforts for the purpose of defending their rights and promoting their status in the field of work. This can be achieved by cooperating in order to change the prevailing negative culture and stereotypes and prejudices that would be an obstacle which handicaps women from achieving their ambitions.

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