Guest blog by Louise Hopper, Political Officer, British Embassy Tripoli.
I have been in Tripoli for couple of months now, and so much has happened since I arrived. Qadhafi has been killed, Libya has been officially liberated and a new transitional Prime Minister has been appointed. Our Embassy has been kept busy with visits from the British Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and the NATO Secretary-General.
But some of the most inspiring Libyan stories are the ones which don’t necessarily make the headlines. One angle I don’t think has been covered as much as it should is the strong role women played in the February 17 Revolution. I have been lucky enough to meet some of them –young and old, ‘liberal’ to more conservative – over the last few weeks. Just like Libya’s men, many of them have stories of extraordinary courage and sacrifice. One group of women in their early twenties spent the months between February and August making resistance videos and printing leaflets to encourage their fellow citizens not to give up hope and to let the rest of the world know that Tripoli supported the revolution. When I asked if they were ever scared, they said they were, because Qadhafi’s forces would be brutal if they were caught, but that they felt the fight for freedom was more important than their personal safety.
Another young woman was working for a revolutionary group in Tripoli and was tasked with passing messages from one of the group’s cells to another. She described a scene straight from a Hollywood action movie, where she arranged to meet the other messenger in a shop, and then quickly dropped the letter into her bag as they brushed past each other in the aisle. Some members of her group were later arrested by Qadhafi’s forces, and so she had to go into hiding in the countryside for a month.
I have also met secondary school girls who took crash courses in nursing and spent much of the last few months volunteering in their local hospitals, women who sold their jewellery to buy weapons for the revolutionaries, and women who were out in the main squares protesting, under fire from Qadhafi’s troops.
As soon as their cities were liberated, these women became hugely active in setting up civil society groups and humanitarian organisations. Through these organisations they works on a variety of projects, from providing support to the families of those, visiting the wounded, offering assistance to the victims of domestic and sexual violence, educating people about elections and democracy, helping young people make their voice heard at the political level and promoting women’s participation in politics. They are all working as volunteers and passionately committed to making Libya a better place to live.
As well as the voluntary sector, I hope that these women will also take an active and prominent role in formal government as it develops. They certainly want to, and I think the new Libya needs their energy, intelligence and obvious skill. At the end of this week Tripoli is hosting the first Libyan Women’s Convention, which will give women from across the country the opportunity to discuss and debate how they can contribute to the rebuilding of their country and what they expect their new government to do for them. The British Embassy is proud to be sponsoring the event, and I am looking forward to hearing more of what Libya’s women have to say.