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HRW Calls on Libya to Protect Women's Rights

  • Selah Hennessy

A Libyan woman holds a pamphlet, which reads "Together to end the violence against women" during a gathering in Benghazi Nov. 25, 2012.

A Libyan woman holds a pamphlet, which reads "Together to end the violence against women" during a gathering in Benghazi Nov. 25, 2012.

The end of Moammar Gadhafi's 40-year rule in 2011 was a watershed moment for women, said a new report from Human Rights Watch. Women's rights are at contention as the country begins to draft a new constitution following four decades of dictatorship.

The Libyan revolution was an "earthquake" to the cultural status of women in Libya, according to Human Rights Watch.

Liesl Gerntholtz, the group's women’s rights director, said, "Women particularly feel that their participation in the revolution needs to be valued and that they need to be able to continue to be fully part of public life in Libya. But at the same time they want the tools to challenge the discrimination they feel in their private lives as well."

The Human Rights Watch report published on Monday calls on the Libyan parliament to make sure that women are involved in the drafting process of a constitution. A Constituent Assembly, tasked with preparing the draft, is due to be chosen by popular election later this year.

The international campaign group hopes that once the drafting is underway, full gender equality will be guaranteed in the constitution, including banning discrimination based on gender, pregnancy, or marital status.

But even as women are benefiting in a post-Gadhafi era, there are also signs that progress could be derailed, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last month, Libya's top religious authority, the grand mufti, called for the separation of men and women in all workplaces, classrooms, and government offices. Sheikh Sadeq al-Ghariani also called for a ban on women marrying foreigners.

Gerntholtz said Libya's Supreme Court has also effectively lifted restrictions on polygamy.

"There are very conservative elements in Libyan society and many of these feel very strongly that women should not be participating in public life, that women's role is in the home," said Gerntholtz. "So I think that this is really a struggle between some of those elements and a progressive element, that is partly led by women themselves, but that is supported by more progressive elements in Libyan society."

Gerntholtz said the so-called "Arab Spring" in the Middle East has had mixed results for women.

"There have been some positive indications, particularly around the area of participation where it seems there is an openness and a willingness for women to participate more fully in political and public life," Gerntholtz added. "But there has been a lot of rhetoric, especially in places like Egypt, that we need to be concerned about."

In Libya, women have had some political success. In Libya's parliamentary elections last year, 33 women were elected to the 200-member General National Congress - making up around 15 percent of the parliament.

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