I am energized by the incredible courage, energy and resolve of the Libyan women that participated in the five-day training “Increasing Women Political Participation in Libya,” sponsored by the International Republican Institute, where I was honored to be one of three facilitators.
During the interactive exercises, the women were visibly eager to implement the strategies and experiences that we shared with them, but they also brought up potential challenges that were seen as road blocks for their success.
Coming from the pretense that honest communication is the gateway to positive action, I requested that each of the participants take a sticky note and write down one challenge, using as many sticky notes as necessary. It was important that we address future challenges that they anticipated in the application of the strategies that were being presented.
We grouped the challenges into categories based on certain recurring characteristics; security, cultural/society, education and legal issues. Cultural/society issues was the largest category with over 65% of the total challenges.
In the training I mentioned Elizabeth Caddy Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul. We spoke about the history of women’s rights in the US—from fighting for the right to vote to fighting for legitimate status in the work place. Not all of the participants were aware of this history. Having this discussion helped them understand that to create change one often has to challenge the status quo.
We then tackled the second big challenge, lack of statistical data to establish “targeting.” We designed a data collection process where we divided Libya into districts and then sub-divided each district into areas, assigning lead-workers responsibility over each area. Each woman participant in turn had followers. It was noted that the person identified to lead the area should be familiar with the tribal leaders and population. This data collection strategy helped identify how many voters were needed to win the campaign and where the voters were located.
We next identified the voter data that they had successfully identified which included age, gender, and location. However, the women still lacked issue based voter intelligence such as education, likeliness of voting for a female candidate, desire to be registered to vote, etc.
To help collect the remaining voter data, I developed a survey that asked questions on topics such as voter interests and concerns, and levels of interest in competing candidate platforms. The collected data was then used to strategically develop targeted slogans for the female candidates to push in their issue based campaigns.
It was exhilarating to see the women successfully creating campaign strategies based off of their original data collection processes. These campaign processes were new to them, as Libya is only in its second election cycle. Up to this point, women have been mechanically placed into political positions due to the legal requirement to appoint at least one woman per district. Women have historically been selected by their tribal leaders arbitrarily and not based on their merits. They have not been given the same level of respect, nor the independence granted to their male counterparts.
Looking ahead, these modern-day pioneers will train 350 women in Libya on their newly acquired political skills. I am confident that with their commitment and resolve they will successfully transform the political mosaic of their country.
We will be cheering from the sidelines and supplying the support they need to continue their capacity building and implement the second phase, utilizing the information and data to elect capable, empowered women to lead in Libya.