“Women’s rights activists in Libya said women have made gains over the past two years, playing an important role in public life,” said Gerntholtz. “But they have legitimate fears that women will lose ground as the country struggles to build its new legal and judicial institutions.”
Women played a key role in the anti-government protests that began in Benghazi in February 2011 and sparked the uprising that led to Gaddafi’s fall. They helped organize demonstrations, they documented human rights abuses, and they circulated information through social media. As the conflict intensified, Libyan women provided medical, logistical, and other support to opposition armed groups, including by smuggling ammunition and feeding fighters.
The 2012 parliamentary election, which saw voters elect 33 women to the 200-member General National Congress, marked a significant increase in female political participation. The electoral law included a gender parity provision requiring each party to place its female candidates in an alternating pattern with male candidates on their lists to ensure that women were elected.
Despite these gains, Libyan women continue to face significant challenges. In February 2013, Libya’s Supreme Court effectively lifted restrictions on polygamy. In April, the Ministry of Social Affairs reportedly suspended issuing marriage licenses for Libyan women marrying foreigners after Libya’s Grand Mufti called on the government to ban women from marrying foreigners.
“Libya’s enormous political changes have provided unprecedented opportunities to reshape women’s legal and social status,” Gerntholtz said. “But the gains made are incomplete and fragile. The time is now to expand and defend them with constitutional and legislative guarantees.”