Voice of Libyan Women

Use religious teaching and texts to promote gender equality and break the cycle of violence against women.

Freedom for Peace

Using religious teachings to promote gender equality in Libya

For many, the February 17 Revolution in Libya in 2011, renewed the hope for equality and the realisation of human rights in the country, including women’s rights. But in the years that have followed, as state institutions crumbled and insecurity prevailed, women continued to struggle to have their voices heard. Across the world women are blocked from leadership roles and positions of influence. This is particularly prevalent in post-conflict situations where despite UN Security Council Resolution 1325, urging countries to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict, women continue to be excluded.

The Voice of Libyan Women was founded in 2011 to ensure that women were taking their rightful place as leaders among the movement to rebuild the nation. They wanted to build on the momentum that women working for equality during the revolution had gained, and ensure that they did not retreat from activism. At the beginning they focused on political and economic empowerment but found that their work wasn’t reaching those who thought that their religious beliefs clashed with the ideas of women’s rights.

Faced with this feedback, they opted for a different tactic, deciding to change their approach and messaging to incorporate Islam. By showing that Islamic texts teach not to harm others or oppress women, Voice of Libyan Women were able to open doors that were previously closed to them, which helped their messaging reach a wider audience.

Their first campaign was International Purple Hijab Day in support of action against domestic violence. The response was phenomenal; in their first year 17,000 people wore purple scarves, ribbons or ties to show their support. The Voice of Libyan Women directly challenged the argument they had heard so many times, that domestic violence is allowed in Islam. They used verses from the Quran and other Muslim scriptures exactly as they were written, to indicate that violence against women is in fact forbidden in Islam.

Voice of Libyan Women’s next campaign was project Noor, meaning light in English, which used billboards, radio, television and social media to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Again, the Voice of Libyan Women used Islamic teachings against violence and interpretations of the Quran which emphasised the equality of women and men. This project has been so successful that many groups have requested it be replicated in their countries.

Despite facing considerable obstacles, ranging from direct opposition to dismissal and lack of support, the Voice of Libyan Women have been able to effectively challenge the prevailing narrative on women’s rights in Libya. By working with religious leaders rather than directly opposing them, they have been able to reach people who hold considerable influence in the country, which never would have been possible without changing how they communicated their message. Their innovation has made progress towards changing the minds of those whose attitudes against women’s equality were most entrenched.

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