Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee was recently invited to Tripoli to deliver a speech on the role of women in transforming conflict and leading reconciliation in Libya. When she saw who was in the audience, she changed her prepared speech...
A few weeks ago I found myself in Tripoli at the invitation of Ara Pacis and the Libyan Initiative. During that visit I was asked to lead several conversations on youth and women. I assumed - given the number of times girls and boys were seen protesting - that both boys and girls would fill the space. Sadly, of the twenty participants, only three were girls. My colleague who travelled with me kept asking, "where are the young women?"
The following day I was supposed to deliver a speech on the role of women in transforming conflict and leading reconciliation in Libya. I was prepared. I had written a few words for my sisters believing that my local experience could help profer some realistic recommendations.
There were over a hundred participants in the room. About 2% were women and 98% were men. Looking at the composition of the participants I soon realised how unfitting my written speech was. I had to say something. But I didn't just want to speak for the sake of speaking. I wanted to say something that will at least begin an honest conversation in that room - extending beyond words - that would assist Libyan women play their unique and critical role in the rebuilding peace process.
My mind took me to the many times I had heard over the last few days of families that were in denial or anger about the rape of their daughters, and their unwillingness to discuss rape and allow these victims to tell their stories and live their lives peacefully as they heal.
We were told stories of rape victims being re-victimised and unable to come out and speak because they were a shame to their families. I also heard - and witnessed - the inability of leaders to verbalise the word rape. With all these thoughts going through my mind I decided to address the gathering of 98.% men with five key words that I believe are essential if women are to play a key role in transforming conflict and leading reconciliation.
Acknowledgement: the need for men and the society in general to acknowledge that the great harm in the form of rape and other violence - and the impact it has on the lives of women - cannot be understated. Acknowledge that there are victims of rape who are re-victimised as long as they are locked up and not allowed to tell their stories. Acknowledge that rape is a war crime, and as such, women victims must be afforded access to justice.
Protection: the current regime needs to provide protection for women victims, and for women generally, as a deterrent measure in order to avoid future violence. Women victims who may decide to steak out and tell their stories must be provided with protection.
Prevention: in the current democratic dispensation, thorough laws and policies must be enacted and ratified as a means of preventing further violence.
Permission: it is an open secret that nations that have involved women in their rebuilding processes have succeeded. Given the cultural dynamics in Libya, it is important that in cases where applicable, women are given permission by their men to get involved in the processes.
Partnership: equal, open and honest partnership with women is a model that will ensure that peace, justice and sustainable development is ensured in Tripoli and all of Libya.
It is global knowledge that the Gaddafi regime was one that didn’t provide basic human rights to the people of Libya, and the revolution is the opportunity for the people of Libya to rewrite history and undo the great harm that was done to them for decades. This rewriting of history can only be done properly if women and girls are involved in rebuilding Libya, and their rights placed high on the agenda for peace, justice, reconciliation and sustainable development.
Written by Leiymah Gbowee
Leymah is a Nobel Peace Laureate and serves on the Board of Directors of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, she is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa based in Liberia. Her foundation provides educational and leadership opportunities to girls, women and youth in West Africa.