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Libyan Women: Let’s Complete the Picture

At the 41stsession of the Human Rights Council, the Libyan Together We Build It Organization 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.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
3 July 2019

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’.

Rida Altubuly, Rawan Khalfalla and Zubaydah Al Barouni
Rida Altubuly, Rawan Khalfalla and Zubaydah Al Barouni holding the policy paper. Photo Credit: Charlotte Hooij
Maria Butler and Rida Altubuly during the conference
Photo Credit: WILPF

“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.”

Rida Altubuly speaking during the conference
Photo Credit: WILPF
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Melissa Torres

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Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

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Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

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Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

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In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

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Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

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In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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