Why are women and youth still not in the picture?

Date: Thursday, October 24, 2019

Aisha Altubuly, Libyan Activist. Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

Aisha Altubuly, (22), co-leader and coordinator of the organization Together We Build It (TWBI), based in Tripoli, Libya, has been working on women's issues since she was 15 years old. Through her work, she has supported the capacity of youth stakeholders to speak up and take active roles in decision-making processes within the framework of United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 2250. She is currently studying Political Science with a specialization in International Relations and a minor in Public Policy and administration at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. She is also member of the UN Women Youth Gender Innovative Agora.

For a long time, women around the world have been fighting for their right to have an equal chance in anything they desire to do. Like the rest of the world, Libyan women face this situation. Since the independence of Libya in the early 50s, the women’s movement started to mobilize and lobby to earn women basic rights such as the right to vote and to receive an education in the Kingdom. At that time, the women’s movement was getting stronger and succeeded to lay some ground for future generations but that was just the beginning. Soon after, things got more complicated and women were completely excluded from participation and not a single woman was ever part of the decision-making processes during four decades of Gaddafi’s regime.

By 2011 when the revolution broke out, women were in the front lines alongside men calling for freedom, social justice, human rights and democracy. However, the situation suddenly escalated to a very polarized armed conflict where women didn’t find a place to fit in.

Women and youth constitute more than half of the world’s population, yet these two groups remain underrepresented in most countries around the world. More specifically, women should be the most influential group within the society because of their relation to the rest of the social fabric and the role they play on a daily basis. Women in their different roles whether as housewives or family supporters are like the ‘backstage managers’ of life. Therefore, women’s participation in peacebuilding efforts and access to decision-making positions is crucial for more lasting peace. Once all society members are represented and their needs and issues are addressed through this representation, meaning that their basic rights are ensured, violence rates will decrease, and sustainable peace will be more likely to be achieved. 

Women’s movements around the world have been advocating for a very long time for gender equality and to be recognized by the world as effective as men in decision-making. They have achieved great milestones starting from the First World Conference on Women in New Mexico (1975) all the way to 1979 with the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), then the Second and Third World Conference on Women (Copenhagen 1980), (Kenya 1985) to the Fourth Conference (Beijing 1995). The Beijing conference in particular was significant as it was the largest meeting gathering policymakers from all over the world, including Libya, which resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. The declaration touched on 12 very important areas that affect women’s lives globally such as women and armed conflict and women’s participation and leadership in decision-making. Furthermore, the outcome of this conference was not only a declaration of commitment and recognition but also an action plan to guide policymakers around the world.

Focusing more specifically on both women and armed conflict and women in decision-making areas, women in Libya have been completely ignored by the previous and current transitional decision makers since 2011. All international mechanisms and treaties ratified or adopted by Libya were neglected by the previous and current decision-makers when making policies. They didn’t bother to integrate a gender-sensitive approach in the peacebuilding process, especially that Libya is going through an armed conflict for almost 9 years now. Not only that but even when those pledges and commitments made by Libya towards enhancing women’s rights status like the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325) and CEDAW were brought to their attention by women's rights advocates, they are still sometimes disregarded and not seen as a priority at all.

In our local context the international community has not yet had a strong impact in including women; anumber of high-level meetings on Libya have been hosted since 2012. However, Libyan women and youth were never included in any of them. The international community should have played a more active role in ensuring a diverse representation through an inclusive process where youth and women are able to participate meaningfully. The international community could have supported women and youth participation by recommending to the national actors to pursue a gender sensitive approach or by allocating quotas for example in the formal and informal political and peacebuilding process especially these mediated by them. Not to mention that Libya had adopted resolutions such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, UNSCR 1325 and ratified CEDAW, which are in favor of equal inclusion of women at all levels and Libya is responsible for their implementation.

For a very long time, they focused solely on bringing together the conflict parties’ leaderships who are men while women and youth who are affected by this conflict were not included.

Now that the 25th review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action is taking place this issue should be highlighted in the review and reports from civil societies and activists should be included to feed into the process and enhance the implementation of these strategic areas. Especially women and armed conflict and women in decision-making as these are key areas for Libya. The international community must continue and increase their commitment towards achieving gender equality, in order for women to have the same opportunities as men, as well as highlighting their responsibility towards empowering youth and especially young women.

Disclaimer: The information and views expressed in our Beijing+25 Youth Voices page by youth from the Arab States region are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women, the United Nations, or any of its affiliated organizations.