Recently I had the opportunity to attend a program for women elected to Libya’s municipal councils.
The program, hosted by IRI, brought together 12 women from across Libya to share experiences, challenges and network with one another. I want to take this opportunity to share some of the lessons I learned from this experience.
Foremost, it fundamentally changed my perception of Libyan women. I had thought they would be reserved, quiet and mired by social constraints and stereotypes. However, I discovered strong women, who are able to defy the deep rooted societal restraints and structures to stand by their choices and express themselves. They were immediately engaging and we openly discussed issues related to empowering women, local elections, and their role in municipalities. I enjoyed talking to them about these subject and appreciated their comments and thoughts.
Libya and Tunisia are closely related geographically and culturally. When times were tough, the economic ties with Libya has been very helpful to Tunisia. More than ever we have to work together to resolve security problems and to advance the status of women across the region. We need to build bridges and expand networks. Part of this program was to begin to build these networks. Using the app Viber, we established a group chat in order to maintain communication in the future. Libyan councilors noted that for many this was the first time they had met or come together as a group (east, west and south) of all political persuasions to overcome the challenges they faced.
I enjoyed hearing these women discuss their challenges working in the municipal councils and ways in which they overcame them. These councilors face significant obstacles, such as: they are newly elected, lack female support (there is only one women elected to the council per municipality), and trying to earn legitimacy in a male-dominated environment. As I listened to them retell their stories I learned from them — it gave me new ideas and inspiration. As part of this program the women presented their successes and you could see the pride of all participants grow as they discussed their accomplishments. As the presentations continued it became clear that it is easy to discuss our successes, but to have our colleagues present them for us builds greater spirit among the entire group.
As we shared our successes and failures in our professional lives, I felt us grow closer and the bonds of our relationship with each other grow stronger. Having served one term as a member of a municipal council and two terms as a deputy mayor enabled me to share my experience with the Libyan councilors. I was honored when the women I was working with told me that the proposals I presented would be implemented in their cities in Libya.
One element of the IRI program I wish to highlight is how we move from individual success to group success. Working as a team is something we lack in our societies; networking is so crucial. It is amazing what we can accomplish as a team and the opportunities it offers. Programs such as these allow us to come together, forge new friendships, and build support networks that can move all of us and our societies forward.
Over the past several months Libya has faced significant challenges, but having met some of its women leaders, I feel more strongly that they have the ability and skills to lead their country forward. It was an honor to spend time with them, and I appreciate hearing their stories. I hope the relationships we forged over those days will last a lifetime.Top