Women’s political participation and engagement in the MENA region : The Libyan travel ban

Women in the MENA region were always prone to discrimination by their fellow citizens. Their participation in political life of their nations was limited.

In some instances, they did not possess rights to engage in any political action. However the circumstances have started changing from the 20th-21st century. (Sadiqi, 2016) Further, highlights that the occurrence of Arab spring and the insightful democratic transitions in the MENA nations led to more growth of women participation in the region.

Fast technological processes also played a role in the turn of events that led to the Arab spring in the MENA region. Digital media allowed for the renewal of women empowerment and progressive awareness of local women of their right to engage in political activities.

The popularity of digital media activism allowed for the creation of platforms such as @projectsilphium : a women’s empowerment initiative aimed at highlighting and advocating for women’s participation (online and offline) in our communities as a tool for peace building in the post Arab Spring society.

One example of how digital media has influenced events on the ground is the recent travel ban by the millitary governer on women traveling alone in the eastern region of Libya that sparked outrage from citizens all over the country. There was a renewed interest in learning about the constitution.

Many citizens started using social media to tweet about laws that were otherwise unknown to the population.

The following tweet states that the Libyan constitution protects the right of movement for all citizens.

ARTICLE 14
The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion, individual and collective expression, research, communication, press, media, printing and editing, movement, assembly, demonstration and peaceful sit-in in accordance with the statute.
A tweet that details the laws about movement in Libya.

In addition to the protection of movement by the Libyan political agreement

Article (31)
All Libyan, males and females, shall have the right to free movement throughout Libya, and the right to travel abroad via any of the airports, maritime ports or land crossings. No action shall be taken with the intention to restrict anyone’s freedom of movement except in accordance with the Libyan legislations in force and based on the orders of the competent judicial authorities.

Women’s rights organisations and women’s rights activists started to speak out publicly to denounce the ban by the military governer.

Join statement by LWPP and Defender center for human rights
A protest by Libyan women to resist the travel ban
Women’s rights activist Zahra langhi actively tweeting about the dangers of not resisting such a ban.
Other activists from the western region of Libya included @halabugaighis from Jusoor Center for Studies

After the social media outcry, the travel ban was picked up by international news outlets like BBC Washington Post and The Independent. The Benghazi civil society community were one of the strongest voices against the ban. Abir mneina, the director of East Libya civil society commision posted about the freezing of the ban initially on her facebook page after meeting with officials.

However it was quickly followed by a larger ban that included security permission while traveling for both female/male Libyans of a certain age group.

Civil society organisations are increasingly calling on women to have a place at the decision making table. This has taken shape in the form of demanding a bigger role in peace building efforts that are currently being conducted in the region.

Will the renewed civil engagement toward bans on movement urge women to join their efforts to push lawmakers and governments further to create a favourable environment for their participation in political life of their country ?

Libyan society has a perception of women not being fit for the political scene. The perception is that women politicians are not prepared for the commitments that politics required. However in the past few days we’ve witnessed women mobilise to protect their right of movement when it came under attack.

This isn’t just a Libyan perception but one that perists in the whole MENA region. The broader and equal participation of women in the political life of their nations became one of the key issues in local politics. Many women endeavour for their right to simply be involved in the political engagements and decision-making process.

Women in Libya are progressively gaining grounds by being more politically engaged, but they still have a lot to do in comparison to males due to their duty to overcome discrimination and hurdles that come in many forms.

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Sadiqi, F. (2016). Women’s Movements in Post-“Arab Spring” North Africa. Berlin, Germany: Springer.

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