By Janet Ellen
ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL)– Despite what appears to be progress in moving Libya toward a viable political solution, the continuing specter of Khalifa Haftar’s legacy remains. For the women of Libya it is a reality marked by fear – leaving them haunted by the death and disappearance of two prominent Libyan female activists who were also respectively, a dissident lawyer and a parliamentarian.
What is hauntingly clear from these incidences is that any criticism of Haftar, his militias or his handling of government will only be met with the silencing of his critics. The most recent, the death of Hanan al-Barassi, a prominent dissident lawyer and an outspoken critic of corruptıon and armed groups in Eastern Libya who was gunned down ın broad daylight on a busy weekday in Benghazi during ongoing peace negotiations. Prior to her shocking death squad style murder, her daughter had spoken of the numerous death threats they both received. Just days after her murder, her grave was desicrated.
Another incident 16 months ago, was the sudden disappearance of prominent Benghazi parliamentarian and rights activist Siham Sergewa. Sergewa was kidnapped by armed men at her home, in the middle of the night after she unabashedly criticized Haftar’s war on Tripoli – never to be heard from again. In
2014, three prominent defenders of female rights were murdered in east Libya – Salwa Bugaighis, Fariha Barkawi and Salwa Yunis al-Hinaid.
The unfortunate cultural truth in Libya is that a ‘noisy’ woman is considered a danger and if she happens to be educated and outspoken – the risk of being either threatened, assaulted, raped, kidnapped or murdered remains a majör obstacle to women’s inclusiveness in a future Libya. Women who break the mold to let go of what are considered ‘traditional’ gender roles are generally ostracized with no protection afforded them even if they come from a powerful tribe.
Libya’s conundrum is the shunning of its own women who have taken the lead for years, in running Libya’s çivil society movement. Currently, both administrations in Libya are run solely by males while the armed brigades and militias are set to play a powerful role in peace negotiations to the detriment of a majority of Lıbyans – the women.
Current ongoing, UN-brokered peace negotiations in Tunis leave women sorely underrepresented with only slightly more than a dozen women out of the 75 Libyans participating. According to pharmacology professor, peacebuilder and founder of Together We Built It – Rida al-Tubuly explained, ‘’Exclusion of women has become the norm,’’
Meanwhile, her organization Together We Built It aims to promote the inclusion of women in the peace process. Al-Tubuly addressed the UN Security Council last November highlighting violence against women in Lıbya and pointing out the need for freedom of expression. The result was that she was accused of spying for foreign countries on social media groups as well as by a well known Lıbyan TV channel. It resulted in her receving death threats from people who claimed they knew where she lived.
Rida al-Tubuly said, ‘’We are frustrated and disappointed with the international community facilitating the process, that they are not gender mainstreaming what is coming.’’ Al-Tubuly reiterated that the recent death of Hanan al-Barassi in the middle of peace talks with no one held accountable is evidence enough that Libya’s current peace process lacks inclusivity of all Libyans – especially women. Al-Tubuly added, ‘’ı am calling on (the UN) to make sure this agreement incorporates significant measures that protect women.’’
Civil socıety activist and lawyer, Hala Bugaighis, the cousin of murdered activist Salwa Bugaighis said that the assumption in Libya is that a womens’ place doesn’t belong in the political arena. She explained, ‘’We are trying to push the UN to use these recommendations,’’ referring to the recent UN sıde-track to the ongoing negotiations where 120 women signed off on recommendations for Libya – a number of them included lawyers and academics who displayed plans for transitional justice, saving the economy and restructuring the military.
Creating an inclusive political and active civil society for women in Libya is clearly a daunting task as Human Rights Watch researcher Hanan Salah expressed. Salah – who has documented multıtudes of attacks on women in the North African nation explained that the lack of female participation in the current peace process is a telling sign. As Salah explained that Libyan women still are unable to express their views on key issues such as the drafting of the constitution and Lıbya’s elections. As Salah added, ‘’Women are exposed.’’ She added that room for them to speak is ‘’shrinking by the hour.’’
The stark reality in Libya remains: complete impunity for perpetrators of violence against women. The other more looming reality also remains; as long as Haftar is allowed to remain viable in any peace negotiatons, the probability of womens’ voices being heard in Libya remains slim. As long as Lıbyan society blames women for their desire to seek justice and inclusivity in a political process that is their inherent right as Libyan citizens then the current window of opportunity for change could very well be shattered.