Libyan women staked 17% representation in new Transitional Authority

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Libyan women show their election-ink marked fingers after casting their ballots at a polling station in Benghazi, Libya, on 7 July, 2012. Photo – Muhammad Elshiky/Xinhua

Reports coming from Libya on Sunday said 33 women have been elected to serve in Libya’s General National Congress in the first post-Gaddafi elections held two weeks ago. The tally gives women 16.5% representation in the 200-member interim authority.

The next challenge for Libyan women will be to secure a foothold in the committee of 60 lawmakers that will draft a constitution, a women’s right group chief said in an interview.

“This is a very good starting point: 32 women elected with the parties and one independent,” Samira Massoud, acting president of the Libyan Women’s Union, told WomenNews in an interview.

She emphasised that the historic vote gave Libyan women a mandate of 16.5% representation in the 200-member transitional authority and compared it with the United States Congress which has just 17% women, despite having a history of 236 years of democracy.

Massoud claimed that unlike neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, women in Libya had almost no political history under Gaddafi or much civil society experience.

Libya’s liberal coalition gained a surprise edge over Islamist parties in its landmark elections. The coalition is led by Mahmud Jibril, a former regime official who defected and became the international face of the 2011 revolution.

The rise of Islamists and Salafists has got many Libyan women fearing they will be forced to wear the niqab, a veil which covers the face. The niqab is compulsory for women in Saudi Arabia.

The new legislature is tasked with appointing a new government and delivering a new constitution on the basis of a process which has come under intense debate.

The Libyan Women rights group praised the so-called zipper polling system that required parties to alternate between male and female candidates not only within their lists but also across the top of their lists.

Female candidates were just shy of half – 545 of 1,206 candidates – of those vying for seats reserved for parties. Only 85 women out of 2,501 contenders took the risk to run as individual candidates.

Women gained less than 2% seats in neighbouring Egypt’s parliament which alarmed many rights groups in the region. Many international observers have praised the performance of Libyan women during the landmark elections. Sabra Bano, director of Gender Concerns International, based in The Hague, the Netherlands commended the results and said that 17% was not a bad start at all.

Election observers – ranging from the European Union and the United Nations to the US-based Carter Centre – reported a high turnout of female voters on election day in their preliminary reports.

Women made up 45% – 1.3 million – of the registered voters in the 7 July vote and turned out in high numbers to exercise their right. All parties were obliged to include women in their lists.

Most of the elected female representatives come from the ranks of the liberal National Forces Alliance, NFA, or those of the Justice and Construction Party, an Islamist outfit launched by Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood.

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