“Libyan women are caught in a Bermuda Triangle”
Callum Paton - 13/03/2014
Samira Massoudi, the President of the Libyan Women’s Union in Tripoli, spearheaded the campaign for a women’s quota in recent elections to the Constitutional Assembly but says there are still further challenges to face in the fight for women’s rights.
“Women are caught in a Bermuda Triangle between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups,” she told the Libya Herald on 8 March International Women’s Day. “We are victims of the political in-fighting between the government and the General National Congress (GNC).”
During her campaign for a female quota in last month’s elections, she was able to gain support from a majority of Congress members apart from the Justice and Construction Party members who would not openly support or condemn the campaign. “They played with us,” she says, adding that on the whole and despite progress, the government and the GNC still do not respect the views of women.
Women were able to secure ten seats in the Constitutional Assembly. While short of the 21 that the Libyan Women’s Union and a coalition of organisations including the National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights campaigned for, it was nevertheless an achievement she say she is proud of.
Much more than the political struggle for rights though, she says, is the need to change a pervasive culture that holds women back. “We have our rights but we suffer because of the culture”, she explains.
She is critical of those who say that women should not travel alone or that men should be permitted to have more than one wife. “You would think that it wasn’t 2014,” she says. “When I hear things like that it makes me think the men fought the revolution just so that they could have four wives.”
Massoudi’s own family has been supportive of her in her work but she says she has lost friends because of her views. Opposition, she says, comes from women as often as from men.
She refers to one rally where she was approached by women who told her women should not be involved in politics and claimed men knew better what was needed. “Who told them this – could it have been a man?” she asks. “Women are used as weapons by men and this needs to change,” she adds.
For Massoudi, these issues are black and white. “We need equality with men, that’s it. Libyan women should have the same rights as men – and why not?” she says. “I will continue to struggle because I am right and they are wrong.”