If the European heat wave made a big impact on Geneva last week, a delegation from the Libyan Together We Build It Organization made an even bigger one.
At the 41stsession of the Human Rights Council, they bravely faced policy makers, UN representatives and the media to present their newest policy paper that advocate for peace and security for women in Libya and to launch their new campaign Complete the Picture.
Rida Altubuly, Rawan Khalfalla and Zubaydah Al Barouni have been working tirelessly since 2011 to advance the role of women in Libya’s economy and politics as well as striving for equality for every woman in Libya.
Complete the Picture is the second phase of the campaign they launched last year with You Are Missing the Full Picture’s viral media operation satirising politicians photographed since the Libyan peace talks in groups that excluded women. They kicked off memes that went viral across social media and organised conferences and talks highlighting the absence of Libyan women from the spaces where decisions were being made that would affect their lives as much as their sons, husbands and brothers’.
“If I had super powers for a day, I would switch men’s lives to those of the women for twenty-four hours. I want men in Libya to experience living as a woman even if it is just for one day,” Rawan Khalfalla said. “I believe that if they had to live like we live they would completely change the way they treat us.”
Rawan Khalfalla thinks that it is not impossible for women to achieve equality in Libya; it is just a matter of strength of will.
This year with Complete the Picture, they are targeting the international community, because “they are the main mediators in the peace process In Libya,” Rida Altubuly, the movement’s founder and director says. Complete the Picture builds on the success of You Are Missing the Full Picture; the main aim is to ensure more participation of women in the peace process in Libya.
When we asked Rawan Khalfalla what feminism means to her she said that feminism means establishing equality between the two sexes. “In Libya we see very deeply rooted discrimination against women. It is a normalised thing.”
Rawan Khalfalla is very angered by the fact that women in Libya are not free to pursue what many would regard as a normal life and what is even sadder is that women often accept that as an inescapable reality, or worse, as the correct way to live. “Real feminism means eradicating that idea and establishing a society where men and women live on equal terms,” she says.
What Together We Build It Organization believes in is that no society can function to its fullest if men and women do not participate equally – and TWBI are not interested in gestures or tokenism. All too often say Rida Altubuly, Rawan Khalfalla and Zubaydah Al Barouni, when women are admitted to professional environments in Libya, they are excluded from the places where decisions that matter are made. Simply expressed, their view is that if one group holds power over another in any society or community, the inevitable result is violence and discrimination and that is not a healthy way to live.
Despite her 22-years Rawan Khalfalla is undaunted by the task and brims with motivation to change the lives of every Libyan woman. Her inspiration, she told us, is her mother who was raised like boys because she did not have any brothers, and therefore learned to be free and strong from an early age. That courage and defiance of gender stereotypes was clearly passed onto Rawan Khalfalla. It’s just this kind of compromise which is forced upon women in patriarchal cultures like Libya’s. “In a male dominated society women sometimes have to act like men to be able to operate,” she says; the goal both for TWBI and WILPF is to reach a point where women can be fully liberated without having to deny their gender in this way.
She wants to set an example for girls her age that it is not impossible to ask for the things you dream of and it is not impossible to dream big. “The world is a much bigger place than the community we live in, there are so many possibilities and there are so many ways to live,” she concluded.
“Libyan women face violence on a daily basis. Even the most basic essentials of life are often absent, says Rida Altubuly at the end of the side event and concludes that “Sustainable Peacebuilding cannot be achieved without the participation of all sexes and age groups in Libya.”
Learn more about Together We Build It Organization at togetherwebuildit.org
Learn more about WILPF’s work on Libya here.