By Asma Shebani
As it currently stands, we find an alarming detachment between civil society within developing North African nations. It is imperative that political forces attempt to promote, encourage and invest in enriching our civil society. It will certainly guide the way forward, as civil society is the mechanism through which North African women can empower themselves. This empowerment will blossom, allowing women to feel correctly established in the workplace, in the media, and most significantly in society. Thus, progressively integrating with the rest of the international community. In accordance to this idea, increasing levels of women representation in politics is also essential. We find that women are limited in their ability to directly influence legislation, policy processes and decision-making at all ministerial levels – this without a doubt must change. Many of the sharpest political minds go unnoticed due to the stigma that is held with respect to women in politics; it is a waste which only further damages the nation in relevance.
Women’s rights and liberties are two very dire subjects to me. Women in Egypt fought for their rights since the early 1950s, post-independence from British administrative rule. Nonetheless, many women in Libya are yet to secure degree-level education. There are well known ladies in the Libyan community that were university graduates in the 50s and 60s – such as Khadija al-Jahmi – but these are cases that are few and far between.
We must do all we can to go forward from the King Idris era (may he rest in peace). There is no better time than now, as Libya is forced to find itself in a political vacuum once again. Women, children and other millennials should take this opportunity to rise against the drift and wave of ignorance that seeks to hold these groups from progression whatever reason. There is sanctity to the empowerment of women through learning, education, equal rights in employment and free speech. This is a God-given or natural right that we must not ignore and sweep under the carpet.
We, the ladies of Libyan and Arab society, must fight and unite to make appeals to the international community to help, support and free us from the shackles of ignorance and miseducation in a way that does not pose incompatible Eurocentric values on others. I have every bit of hope in the future of Libya and in all our girls in society and in all our future mothers who will bear and raise excellent youth who can contribute to the rest of the Arab World.
More specific areas that should be covered and emphasised on, in women’s empowerment, are encouraging women to have a say in politics on regional, local and national levels. Ladies must also be encouraged to go into science & engineering and become scientific ambassadors across borders. This can encourage more forms of medical, scientific and technical education progress in the international community.
Furthermore, there has to be a huge investment in research & scientific advancement at national, regional and international levels. Sarraj’s transitional government must create scholarships for research, promote lifelong learning, make bursaries for contribution into scientific conferences and begin financing publishing bodies. It would also help if a legal required quota of women representation in all sectors of employment and politics was established.
Other areas of social life have to be investigated. This would encourage and inspire our youths to start their own families, which could be helped through the provision of living allowances for married couples, particularly for older couples or those with children. Through levying small taxes on foreign enterprise and investments, the transitional government can also begin helping women in families establish themselves through other family planning initiatives – such as subsidising better repayment deals on car financing and mortgages.
In terms of physical, emotional, psychological and mental abuse, women in the 21st century can no longer be expected to tolerate such acts of degradation and humiliation. We must do all we can to fiercely protect our women and children through the provision of social aid members of vulnerable communities. Libya has a long way to go before its government can start providing appropriate medical care during antenatal and early years, and widespread immunisation and birth control services. Free accessibility to family planning clinics and adequate sex and contraceptive education are also extremely important, particularly for Libyan women.
Last but not least, I must emphasise the protection of our girls and women against all forms of rape and sexual abuse and harassment: whether that be at home, at school, or in the street. Public or private. Whilst figures in North Africa are unclear, about 1 in 3 women go through some form of sexual molestation in the course of their lifetime in the West. Fortunately, Egyptian officials are starting to do something about this by talking openly about sexual harassment in various media outlets and establishing clearly defined prison terms for culprits of such crimes. But why should it always be Egypt at the forefront of North African progress? Whatever happened to healthy competition in the social sciences? Libya must recognise that it is a matter that needs addressing through educating our girls and boys and not making it a taboo to talk about sex and other women’s issues. There is no shame in progressive discourse, and this is in line with the values of tradition Islamic kalam (dialectical discourse). What’s shameful is to not do something about it as soon as possible. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad makes it clear in one of the verified Hadiths that the demarcations between what’s halal and what’s haram are clear, and we must never mix the two, particularly in matters regarding the treatment of women.