Zahra’ Langhi is a feminist activist and the co-founder of Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), a pressure group and social movement advocating for women’s socio-political empowerment and peacebuilding.
In conjunction with UN Women and Karama — the movement and coalition to end violence against women in the Middle East and North Africa founded by Hibaaq Osman — she coordinated the Libyan Women’s Political Empowerment program, aimed at empowering women to become active participants and leaders of political, economic, and social reforms. Her work has led to international recognition, including being named in 2014 by UN Development Program head Helen Clark as one of the seven women to watch who are leading positive change around the world.
In 2011, Langhi participated in the Arab Spring uprising that ultimately toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade hold on power and ushered in what most people thought would be a new democratic era for the country. The first elections looked particularly promising, with a policy designed to ensure that there were equal numbers of men and women on the candidates’ lists.
But by 2013 the promise of the post-Gaddafi era had already faded. The old politics of dominance and exclusion, violence and fragmentation, re-asserted themselves. Langhi, who had already become active in the movement for women’s empowerment and inclusion in political processes through Karama, saw lessons to be learned in the failure of the revolution. “Maybe,” she says in a 2013 TED Women talk, “we were missing the feminine values of compassion, mercy and inclusion.” She added, “Our society needs the qualitative representation of the feminine more than it needs the numerical quantitative representation.”
Since she gave that talk, the situation Libya has deteriorated. It is a failed state and a dangerous place, particularly for women. Arab women’s political engagement and contributions to peace, security, economic development, and a host of other societal issues has become increasingly circumscribed – and in some cases life-threatening – in the years following the Arab Spring uprisings, and Libya is no different. Over the past few years, some of the most prominent Libyan women’s rights activists have been assassinated. Langhi herself was forced to leave the country after receiving numerous death threats.
Langhi and the LWPP worked in collaboration with a network of Libyan women’s organizations as part of a drafting coalition to devise a unified strategy for post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding in Libya, presented to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The agenda focused on protecting women’s right to a 30% representation in government, enshrining gender equality in the new constitution, and reforming laws to protect women’s right to live free from violence. The drafting coalition forwarded the idea of creating a national platform for women to themselves to advocate for women’s rights and proactively build solutions, particularly for women IDPs, female prisoners, and women whom the conflict forced into working outside the home without prior work experience. The focus of the document expanded beyond women’s issues, as well, contemplating transitional justice, national reconciliation, and the reintegration of fighters after disarmament.
“We don’t want to be another banana republic, another militaristic country,” she said in an interview with OpenDemocracy. “We’re saying, ‘have focus groups and ask us how we want our security sector reformed.’ We want it based on human rights, but we want it to be built the way we want it. So we’re not saying we don’t want an army. We want reintegration into the army, but this is a moment for us when we need to have a voice.”
Despite the risks to herself, Langhi continues to advocate for a feminist response to the instability in Libya. Amidst an institutional push for increased participation for women in issues of peacebuilding, particularly from bodies such as the UN Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, Langhi’s writings and public talks describing a nonviolent resistance and the need to spur on development as a way to fight terrorism in the country and region are of increased resonance and relevance.
Learn more: www.lwpp.org