The results of Libya’s first democratic election is one powerful example of how Libya’s phase of transition brings uncertainty, but also tremendous opportunity to further gender equality and advance women into the decision-making processes. As a result of a simple, but well-conceived gender-sensitive election law, women candidates in the July 7 election were elected to 33 of the 200 seats in the new General National Congress. This is a remarkable achievement, as the turbulent events of the past year have had a significant impact on the sociopolitical make-up of the north African nation, bringing to the fore conservative religious factions, as well as a leaving a dearth of civil society support for these aspiring politicians. Despite the overwhelming odds and the tremendous hardships however, these brave female leaders succeeded in attaining 16.5% of the seats in the government, just a few percentage points less than women’s representation in the United States today. For Libya ALWANE Country Officer Entisar El Bahi and ALWANE Committee Member Azza Maghur, this is also a tremendous personal accomplishment as they were among the many brave women who advocated against the 10% quota for women proposed in the initial election law in January 2012 on the grounds that it did not ensure sufficient representation for women.
Ms. Azza Maghur, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist in Libya, was among the leaders of this women’s movement. Using her advocacy and legal expertise, as well as her direction, a new electoral law was adopted which addresses a systemic issue with women’s political representation, instituting a “zipper list system” which ensures that voter ballots are gender-sensitive. In ballots which are not zipper listed, women are often shut out of power by default because they are added to the end of the voting list, making it difficult for them to gain recognition. However, with the “zipper list system,” parties are required to alternate between men and women when listing their candidates, ensuring that women are given an equal chance at ballot visibility.
Ms. Maghur, along with ALWANE Country Officer Ms. Entisar El Bahi, recently spoke with WCI about the implications of women candidates’ success in the recent election. Ms. Maghur reiterated the importance of diversity in a legislative body, noting that women’s insights are not only valuable but also frequently different from those of men. She also expressed excitement about the “blank slate” state of Libyan politics at the moment, saying “neither men nor women have any political experience, and this is a good thing for the women. We are starting our political classes all together.” Since women are beginning on an equal level of experience as men, Ms. Maghur emphasized how important it will be for women and men to work together on strengthening Libyan democracy. There is no doubt that Libyan women will apply the same drive and determination to this task that they have demonstrated throughout the revolution and peace-building process.
Ms. El Bahi also spoke to WCI about the incredible work that the Libya Country Committee is doing in this exciting environment. The Libya Committee, which is focusing on women’s political participation, will take advantage of this unique window of opportunity in Libya’s political history. In spite of the promising outcomes of July’s election, much work remains to be done on the issue of women’s political participation in this post-conflict nation. Although 33 of the incoming representatives are women, this is only a small glimpse of women’s influence in politics and the potential results of their participation. Of the 1,206 candidates, almost half were women. Similarly, women accounted for 40% of the participating voters. Such a high level of involvement has the fortunate side effect of forcing even the most conservative parties to heed women’s interests and cultivate them as voters. The advocacy efforts of ALWANE Libya in the coming months will focus on the potential of such an amazing groundswell of support for women’s involvement in political processes. As Ms. Maghur said, Libya has unique opportunity to start anew, and to cast off the shadows of the oppressive autocratic system that has caused so much bloodshed and marginalization for over three decades. The brave men and women of the ALWANE Coalition will over the next few months be working to transform Libya into a nation in which men and women move forward as equal stakeholders.