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Women's rights still lacking in Libya

The second anniversary of Libya’s liberation this year was not like that of last year. On Oct. 23, Libya was a different state from the one envisioned in the draft constitution known as the “National Charter of the Libyan State.” The draft constitution stipulates that all Libyans are equal before the law and everyone enjoys equal civil and political rights. 

A new study ranked Libya as one of the countries where women enjoy good political representation. The study based its results on the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was ratified by 19 Arab countries.

Although women played an active role in Libya’s revolution, women’s rights activists were upset when the rebels appointed only one woman, Salwa Fawzi El-Deghali, to the National Transitional Council (NTC) when it was formed in March 2011. While another woman, Haniyeh al-Ghamati, joined the NTC in May of the same year, these two remained the only women in the 40-member council until the end of the revolution.

In the lead-up to the general national congress elections in July 2012, the NTC made a number of controversial decisions. These were primarily aimed at allaying the fears of supporters of federalism, who were demanding autonomy in northeast Libya, as well as reassuring the various Islamist groups. When the proposed electoral draft law issued in January of 2012 allocated women a 10% quota, the proposal faced opposition from Islamists. This quota was then abandoned and the law called for a rotation between male and female candidates.

Federalists, in turn, revealed in early March 2012 a plan for a establishing an autonomous federal region in Cyrenaica. The NTC then announced that seats for the Constitutional Committee would be distributed on the basis of 20 seats for each of the three regions — Cyrenaica, Fezzan and the territory of Tripoli — rather than an allocation based on the population of those regions.

In late April 2013, the NTC also renounced a ban that the electoral law had placed on ethnic, tribal and religious parties. And, following mounting pressure from federalists, the NTC amended the National Charter of the Libyan State to provide for the direct election of the 60-member committee charged with drafting a new constitution, rather than members being appointed by the National Congress. Although the National Charter of the Libyan State called for organizing national elections in late 2013, it will not be possible to hold them before the end of 2014.

A large number of NGOs concerned with women’s rights were established and made efforts to achieve a significant increase in women’s participation in the political field, leading to 600 women running in the elections. Of these candidates, 33 succeeded in winning seats in the 200-member General National Congress, yet the transitional government formed after the elections only included two women out of 33 total ministers. Thus, the election results showed some progress in women’s rights, but it did not amount to a fundamental shift in the attitudes on the role of women in public life.

In Feb. 2013, the Supreme Court overturned Law 10, which was applied in the era of Gadhafi and stipulated that a husband had to obtain the consent of his first wife before marrying a second wife. While some women’s rights advocates condemned this decision, it was received positively in some women’s quarters in Libya because it is consistent with Sharia law. In March 2013, the country’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadiq Ghariani issued a fatwa against a charter prepared by the UN Commission on the Status of Women, considering it to be incompatible with Islamic Sharia. In particular, he criticized the charter’s call for equality between men and women, its provisions for inheritance, and what it said about sexual freedoms and the rights of children who are born out of wedlock. Later that month, Ghariani called on the government to ban Libyan women from marrying foreign men. Then, in April, the government called for a ban on men and women mixing in educational institutions and workplaces, saying it encourages unethical behavior.

The composition of the 60-member committee charged with drafting a new constitution provides another example of women being deprived of their rights. This committee is not comprehensive and does not represent all groups. Based on the geographical distribution in the last census (2006), the population of Libya stands at around 6 million people, with women making up about half the population. Women had demanded 15 seats in the 60-member committee, yet they only received six.

While the world focuses on security issues and the resulting decline in oil and gas production in Libya, no one is paying enough attention to the series of events that are leading to the elimination of a political track that carries the seeds of a democratic governance model. There is no doubt that restoring security and restarting the economy are key issues, but settling larger issues related to legitimacy, transparency and ensuring the involvement of all parties will be much more important in the long run for Libyans and the outside world. And perhaps the most important challenge facing the currently inter-warring Libyan parities — as well as the armed militias that are wreaking havoc in the country — is the challenge posed by the upcoming municipal elections that are supposed to be held at the end of this month. There is also the issue of disarming the illegal armed groups that do not operate under the flag of the state, the army or the police. This is supposed to occur by the end of this year, as stipulated by Resolution 27 of the National Congress. Following this, general elections are to be held, which will bring an end to the country’s transitional phase. Then comes the issue of a consensus on the constitution and determining the shape of the new states. These are challenges that the current state entities and institutions do not seem capable of confronting yet.

Article by Hisham Munawar, Al-Monitor.

This article was originally published here.


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