“Libyans are in the midst of dramatic change, trying to build a new political system after 42 years of dictatorship. The challenges to build a more rights-respecting state based on the rule of law are significant. “ A report published by the Human Rights Watch, an organization that strives to defend the rights of people worldwide by investigating abuses, exposing facts, and pressuring those with power to respect rights and secure justice strives to do just this for the women of Libya. The report “A Revolution for All: Women’s Rights in the New Libya” presents the key issues that Libya should address to help secure women’s rights.
For Libyan women, the stakes today are high. Many women played important roles in the uprising that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi and have contributed to the political transition as members of the new parliament. While the radical political change in Libya has already provided opportunity to reshape the legal and social status of women, the new Libya needs concrete steps to ensure that women’s rights are respected. It is critical that discrimination based on gender is firmly rejected by the law. Failure to secure these rights and deal with the issues properly will reverse the gains that women have made over the recent years.
One of the key issues of discrimination that must be focused on is violence against women. Inadequate laws and services leave female victims of violence without an effective remedy to deter them from reporting rape and domestic violence. On top of that is Libya’s still very traditional culture, which discourages victims of sexual abuse from speaking out. Currently, the only law in place involving domestic violence is Law No. 10 of 1984. This states that a woman “has the right to expect her husband to…refrain from causing her physical or psychological harm.” It provides no enforcement mechanisms and is not effective at combating the problems.
For the crimes that are reported, consequences and penalties follow too infrequently. Sexual violence is classified as “a crime against a woman’s honor, rather than against the woman as individual victim or as a violation of her bodily integrity.” Women who have to see themselves as dishonored by assault are much less likely to feel entitled to justice, and many crimes of this sort go unreported. Another law states that a man whose honor-motivated violence results in serious injury to his wife or female relative may be imprisoned for no more than two years, while the same act could result in a 7.5 year sentence if the attack was not deemed to have been motivated by honor. The penalties for these “honor crimes” violate the basic requirements of international human rights laws that “individuals are entitled to equality before the law and should not suffer discrimination on grounds of their sex.” The problems continue when the women who attempt to press charges for these crimes end up in prison themselves because the court may view them as admitting to having engaged in unlawful sex.
Clearly there is still work to be done, and it’s important to identify the necessary moves to address the issues. The report suggests that the key steps include preventive measures such as public information and education programs as well as protective resources including shelters, counseling, and support services.
So what do you think? One very important issue here seems to be the idea of honor. As an abstract thing, it’s something everyone arguably is entitled to. But in Libya and elsewhere, the rules for honor pretty clearly put women at a profound disadvantage. What seem to be the particular conceptions about honor that are operating around sexual violence toward women in Libya? Is it possible to imagine more egalitarian conceptions of honor that Libyans themselves would recognize? Or is the idea of honor here fundamentally inseparable from men’s control of women? The bigger question here is how Libyan women (and other similar disempowered groups) can secure adequate protections where there is such deep cultural resistance to them? A related question is how we ought to view such a situation from the West, where our cultural framework is so different?