Women celebrate in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ square

Farah Abushwesha writes:

At this week’s conference on Libya in Paris, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and the international community talk about “inclusiveness” in the new country’s future. It seems strange, then, that half of the population – women – seem to be excluded from the discussions on the future of their country.

It is not commonly known, but Libyan women started the revolution when the mothers, sisters and widows of prisoners killed in the 1996 Abu Salim massacre took to the streets in Benghazi on 15 February to protest outside the courthouse after their lawyer was arrested.

Since then Libyan women at home and abroad have protested, smuggled arms beneath their clothing, founded countless civil society groups, tweeted, blogged, fed, nursed, mourned, mothered, raised funds and awareness, and sent in humanitarian aid and medical staff for the cause. Women have taken a central role alongside men and it has united us.

Libyan women may not have been visible on the streets with guns, but they have played an equally important role, displaying courage and strength that has been invaluable to the success of the country’s revolution. Only now are some of the harrowing stories starting to emerge. We have seen the iconic images of Iman al-Obeidi, who spoke out about the sexual violence inflicted on so many who have otherwise suffered in silence; the elderly lady praising rebels at a lay-by and giving them her blessing; and Malak, the five-year-old amputee from Misrata – to name a few.

Libyan women will no doubt continue to play a vital part in the national reconciliation and rebuilding process, but the time has come for this role to be fully recognised, encouraging them to step forward. The Women for Libya campaign aims to mobilise and encourage Libyan women to take their rightful place and be included as equals for the purpose of shaping a better Libya. We do not want tokenistic representation.

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