With Sarraj’s arrival in Tripoli, it is important to bear in mind that the rate of any nation’s advancement is partly reflected by how women and children are treated, in terms of achievement, equality, welfare and status. Women constitute roughly 50% of Libya, and therefore represent a huge potential chunk of wealth and investment for the Libyan economy. All this can only be achieved by education, training and empowerment.
As is the case in Europe and other parts of the world, women in North Africa are not yet reaching their potential, and this journey is made even more difficult due to social and cultural restraints. Furthermore, a lack of education and basic skills are key factors to social and economic degradation, particularly of women, across North African nations. Lack of public health, family planning and birth control also puts a strain on the relationship between women and other parts of society.
Other factors influencing the welfare of Libyan women are bureaucracy and corruption in the public sector, where women have sometimes reported harassment, and this is intensified by the little reliance Libyan citizens generally place on the private sector. All of this will be discussed below in a three stage summary of how the new government led by Sarraj can address women’s issues in Libya: by stimulating jobs, by redesigning the education system, and by introducing new social service methods.
Reward Ethical Employers
In Libya, around 30% of people are currently unemployed, and this is not actually uncommon for oil rich countries, such as nearby Algeria or in sub-Saharan African nations. For some countries there is an issue of the treatment of women in the workplace, but for Libya the problem is that women are not even entering the workplace. Having a disposable income is one of many factors that could contribute to the empowerment of Libyan women.
Therefore, with Sarraj in power, the private sector needs to be stimulated again and subsidies should be given to companies that employ based not only on skills but also on diversity and equal opportunity. Of course, this involves changes to the tax economy in order to generate the necessary funds to implement such measures; but this would also likely help encourage new businesses that can help contribute to a growing job marketing for Libyan men and women alike.
Sarraj will of course be collaborating with the West, as a UN-assigned head of the presidential council, on similar matters. It is however difficult to decide whether or not Sarraj should deepen the partnership to help with all forms of sustainable development (political, social, financial, and so forth) in return for, say, Libya’s assistance countering violent extremism from across Europe’s waters. If Sarraj does not take the initiative himself, and instead seeks external support, he may end up deepening the current problem insofar as Libya will develop an over-reliance not just on its own public sector but on Western public resources too.
Redesign the Education System
Other issues that need addressing include illiteracy and generational poverty, linked to unsustainable educational systems that produce unskilled women. That involves everything from early years education, to primary, secondary, post-16, further and higher education. Stimulating the private sector to help empower women does not mean simultaneously ignoring the public sector. With Sarraj’s arrival in Tripoli, he should also be looking towards a long-term plan to design and construct healthy schools, colleges and universities, and to serve hot meals and provide regular bus services at all of these. He should also be looking to link public health to early years education in order to create a holistic infrastructure that can underpin a strong and prosperous Libya.
Creating compulsory citizenship modules in schools and universities that look at issues of diversity and equality across North Africa may also create the awareness necessary to “allow” the empowerment of women to take place slowly and naturally over, say, a 40-year plan (two generations). Sarraj may be reluctant to spend a lot public funding on such a large project, particularly as his success as a politician will be determined by his short-term and directly visible accomplishments. Despite this, the education system in Libya needs a total re-shift to not only be more accessible to poorer families, but to also address country-specific issues, such as the roles of women and other groups in Libyan society.
New Social Services
Finally, Sarraj can look at helping women by building community centres for them, as well as mother and toddler clinics, community care, work experience, financial incentives, and grants to help set up new ventures and businesses. These services should offer psychological counselling, family planning, victim support & rehabilitation from domestic violence and PTSD. Whilst his budget is currently unclear, this should provide Sarraj with a holistic approach (alongside jobs and education) in tackling women’s issues in Libya.
Authored by “Bent Libya” and Osama Filali Naji, MA. Constructive comments are welcome.