Political Feminism Will Pave Path For Libyan Democracy


Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is on the verge of disappearing into the annals of history. The goal for Libya now is to create a working democracy, and promoting feminism can be an effective start.

A more holistic acceptance of women in the new Libyan government offers inclusive solutions that reconcile internal divisions with the aims of a national democratic regime, such as state-wide education, development, and health care systems. A gender-based paradigm of access would quickly consolidate the new government as a legitimate, national power.

This would include women in key positions, the enhancement of women’s services and their access to institutions and opportunities, and measures to provide horizontal and vertical social mobility, such as ascension in a professional hierarchy or the chance to practice any profession of their choice without stigma or restriction. This is all in an effort to avoid a return to the style of patriarchical authoritative governments, historically characteristic of North African and Middle Eastern states. A feminist perspective can be a source of unity for Libya with the potential to make tribal and ethnic differences almost irrelevant and at the same time guarantee a fairer distribution of resources with a more universal framework for access to opportunities and services for both men and women.

Libya’s democratic outlook is not very encouraging. Here is what we have to work with: rebels; Gaddafi’s justice minister and other old hands of the regime forming the TNC; a motley crew of exiles and hippies; and what is a tribally divided society. Suffice it to say, a viable democracy is a multi-generational project. With these actors, Libya’s democracy will be ineffective and undemocratic. 

But a connection with feminism can potentially give it some real dimension. Gender-based solutions can give political space to problems facing the entire country while also providing room for the country’s various groups to participate in the process. Importantly, feminism offers a way out of a patriarchical, ethnically encapsulated government (a la Gaddafi) by setting national priorities and maximizing the number of opinions that can be voiced.

In Libya, feminism offers the chance to establish the same fundamental course towards democracy with the strong moderating effect it would have on the very undemocratic people who are going to form Libya’s next government. As per my previous article, feminist approaches can offer inclusive, conciliatory solutions to establishing lasting peace and political processes.

We cannot speak of a Libyan nation by virtue of its fragmented tribal loyalties. The irony is that Gaddafi was the only man who knew how to unify such a diverse country and keep it together for 40 years; after him, there is no sign of a leader with that kind of knowhow. Tribal tensions thus threaten to overwhelm the country and potentially drown it in blood. As such, feminism offers a viable alternative to encourage gender-based equality that overcomes historical internal divisions and creates a neutral ground for presenting issues and solutions that go above petty regional differences.

The idea is to lock in an irreversible commitment towards democracy in Libya, despite the big problems that democratic transitions bring. Stability and continuity are two of the requirements for achieving a democratic political culture in the long run.

Feminism offers to do this for Libya. Gender-based solutions will offer an inclusive, politically-neutral ground to plant the seeds of democracy. Tribal tensions will not disappear, but they can be effectively more marginalized through feminism for the sake of preserving a unified Libyan state.

Photo Credit: Magharebia