04. May 2012
Alaa Murabit and Edit Schlaffer
Dr. Edit Schlaffer interviews Alaa Murabit
Edit Schlaffer interviewed Alaa Murabit at the KVINFO ‘Women in a Changing Middle East and North Africa: Facing Challenges and Seizing Opportunities’ conference in Copenhagen, Denmark on April 16th.
Meet Alaa Murabit a 22-year old doctor, a self-described ‘accidental activist’, and the Founder and President of the Voice of Libyan Women. The VLW is an NGO based in Tripoli, with branch offices in Zawia and Misrata, that focuses on the political participation and economic advancement of Libyan women, as well as the elimination of all forms of violence. Alaa was born in Canada to Libyan parents and returned to Libya with her family after completing her high school degree at the age of 14. She describes her transition to Libyan life as an absolute shock for a teenager – cut off from the freedoms she had grown up with; things such as Internet became luxuries. The telecommunications void that still exists outside of wealthier homes in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, and other major cities (she cites a 5% Internet penetration rate into the country). Just years after the move, she was swept up in the Libyan revolution – as she explains, “as soon as I accepted the culture, they decided to have a revolution.”
Alaa saw the women around her – her friends, sisters, and aunts – rise up to join in the efforts of the revolution, though often in a less publicized role. While the men took to the streets with firearms and followed by news crews, the women bore the responsibilities of both men and women at home, and provided much-needed food, medicines and weapons to the fighters at the front. Alaa says the women claimed their new role with a truly self-owned sense of agency; “women didn’t ask for permission to be part of the revolution, they felt it was their responsibility.”
Now she sees a warning in the hype of the “Arab Spring” (a term with which she strongly disagrees), stating: “we need to be very cautious about not getting lost in the shock of the Arab Spring – before it’s too late and we notice that women have been sidelined. If we are to seize this window of opportunity, we have to get women into positions of political and economic power. And not women who will just say “yes” to the existing government structure, officials and laws, and not just quota-fillers, but women who will actually stand up for women.”
“There is a current illusion of freedom. Before no one spoke about Gaddafi, my grandmother would say to me, when I first arrived from Canada, ‘the walls have ears’. But now, yes we all get to say what we don’t like, but does it matter if no one is listening? I fear it may turn into more of a regression then progression.”
Alaa Murabit is currently based in Zawia – an eloquent voice herself for Libyan women.
Visit the Voice of Libyan Women on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheVoiceOfLibyanWomen
The Voice of Libyan Women can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org