Jul 9, 2013

From the ground up

Source: Chime Original

BY Alaa Murabit

If you met my parents you would already know a great deal about me. I was born and raised by the two greatest feminists in the world. Though my mother and father wouldn’t even know what the term means, their belief in gender equality was ingrained in my upbringing. Born and raised in Saskatoon, Canada as one of 11 children – six girls and five boys – I have never felt less than equal to my brothers.
My journey has been defined by the courage my family have shown in their steadfast beliefs in women’s potential.

Shortly after my 15th birthday I graduated from high school and moved to Libya.
The idea of fighting for women’s issues in Libya had never been something I considered. I had believed quite naively that all young girls were raised like me with merit as their only judge. Following my enrolment in medical school in my hometown of Zawia, Libya it was quickly made clear to me that as a woman I was considered inherently flawed. My anger and disgust at the blatant discrimination led to action, and within months, I successfully lobbied our administration to become the first woman to sit on the Zawian College of Medicine’s Student Council –The victory was symbolic and didn’t lead to any major change.

It was not until 2011, following their dedication to the Libyan Revolution, that women and girls began to truly demand equal rights. My own work to support revolutionaries as well as the survivors of sexual violence led to the creation of “The Voice of Libyan Women” (VLW) in September that year.
Since its inception, VLW has visited over 30 Libyan cities, meeting with local schools, holding seminars in mosques, workplaces and public forums. We have published the Libyan Women’s Charter to be used in our upcoming Constitution; We have trained and advised the majority of our female parliamentarians. We have supported female entrepreneurs and given basic work ethic classes. We have micromanaged and micro financed female owned start ups in all four regions of the country. We have held seminars and led initiatives on the importance of engagement and civic responsibility. We also have a center in Zawia which caters to over 500 women including on issues related to their safety.

However it is International Purple Hijab Day, our nationwide campaign against domestic violence, that has impacted me the most.
Religion is too often used as an excuse to justify violence against women. So we conducted interactive seminars and surveys in local high schools to listen to young girls and boys, as well as educate them about the respect and rights that Islam grants women and men alike.
As a result of our efforts, El-Keib the transitional Prime Minister himself wore a purple scarf to show his support. He became the first Arab Head of state to publicly speak out against domestic violence and support legislative change and accountability in sexual violence crimes. We also started working with over 30 local organizations to ensure that the greatest number of young girls and boys could be reached.
And we are now launching a nationwide media campaign, with the support of Dar Al Ifta Libya, the country’s highest religious authority, to promote women’s security, rights, education and personal growth through the use of Islamic Hadiths and Quranic verses on billboards and through radio shows and television commercials.

Our emphasis on local leadership and capacity is not a mistake – being from a smaller city myself I don’t believe that change must be driven by the elite– that those with the right last name or enough money have an unspoken right to be the leaders of the future. In Libya, like in most other countries, it is the silent heroes, the local leaders, disguised as housewives, teachers, doctors and students who have truly inspired change.

I have been honoured to work with and to learn from such dynamic individuals in my own community and across the country. I am eternally indebted to the parents who raised me, the women who have come before me and all those – women and men alike – who so strongly support and fight for the rights of women.

Opinions shared are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of views of CHIME FOR CHANGE, Gucci or any partners of the campaign.