”Reject the recently-issued draft electoral law, since it does not ensure equal gender representation in the Constitutional Assembly that will draft Libya’s new constitution”. This was the message from The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, to all Libyans after the proposed law was presented in the end of May. A recently published report by Human Rights Watch also underlines the close connection between future women’s rights in Libya and women’s equal participation in the constitution writing process.
The draft electoral law is the work of a committee assigned by the Libyan General National Congress (GNC). It sets the rules for the popular elections that will be held to fill the 60 seats of the Constitutional Assembly that will be responsible for drafting the new constitutaion. LWPP has identified several areas of concern regarding the electoral law, among them the lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure representation of both men and women, and the simple majority vote system, which affects both female candidates and candidates from all kinds of minorities negatively.
“The electoral law of the Constitutional Assembly reminds us of the National Transitional Councils’ first draft of the electoral law of the GNC. Both mindset is basically exclusionist. Again this runs against the spirit of the 17th Feb revolution in which women and men fought together to foster equality, justice and democracy. Democracy entitles that all voices are represented, those of the majority as well as those of the minority especially if we are addressing the process of drafting the constitution which is basically the establishment of the social contract.” said Zahra’ Langhi, Cofounder of LWPP in a statement.
“Women’s voices critical”
Human Rights Watch’s report A Revolution For All – Women’s Rights in the New Libya is also adamant in its warnings about the consequences for gender equality in Libya if women aren’t equally represented in the constitution drafting process.
”Failure to deal with these issues (one of which is equal representation, editor’s comment) properly will set back the progress women have made over the past two years, and hinder respect for women’s rights in the future. (…) Women’s voices are critical to prepare a constitution that meets international standards for women’s rights” the report states.
Egypt warning example
Another recent report, Women and Equal Citizenship: Analysis of the New Constitution of Egypt by the Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition, FACT, also focuses on the clear connection between the writing of constitutions and future equality. It examines the final draft of the Egyptian constitution that was signed into law last December. The report states that important rights regarding the status of women were muddled in vague text in the constitution and written with a conservative vision for the society. Subsequently Egypt’s constitution lacks proper mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights and has no mechanisms to address discrimination based on sex or mentions any creation of agencies to oversee such cases.
The report also states that these gaps in ensuring full equality among Egypts citizens, were the possible results of the clear lack of female voices in the constitution’s formation (there were only 6 percent women in the Constitutent Assembly).
More about consitution writing and women’s rights.
The Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition has also releasead a report examining several draft constitutions in Tunisia: Equal Citizenship in Tunisia: Constitutional Guarantees for Equality between Citizens.
About 200 activists attended recently the second One Voice – New Horizons Women’s Conference in Tripoli, Libya, to discuss how to uphold and promote women’s rights in the new Libyan Constitution. The advancements, challenges and the security situation for women after Gaddafi were other discussed issues. The conference was co-organized by five women’s organizations, the attendants came from all over Libya and some international guests were also present.
Libya is deciding on the process how to draft its first democratic constitution after more than 40 years of Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
Women activists are afraid that Libya’s government might follow neighboring Egypt’s example, where women’s rights were ignored in the new constitution. Women’s advocacy groups are lobbying for equal-protection clauses, the right for women to pass citizenship to their children and equal inheritance possibilities, rights women were long denied in Libya.
Dr. Huda Gashut, Head of Department at the Pediatric and Maternal Child Development Center in Tripoli, who attended the conference, said: “The goal of the conference is to create a body that sets guidelines on women’s rights in the country to be included in the Constitution. We will not lower our guard until our demands are written in our Constitution. We will not allow any paragraph that in the least way revises the system of rights we defined.”
Female parliamentarians have formed a cross-party bloc with the aim to ensure fair female representation on the constitutional drafting committee. In the parliamentary election in 2012, 33 out of 200 seats went to women, 16, 5 percent of all seats. Even though this isn’t very much, by comparison to the USA for example, the number is not so bad: women there hold 17, 8 percent of the seats in parliament. Nevertheless, these number show that still most of the powerful positions are held by men. Not only in Libya.
Last year’s new European Neighbourhood Policy meant an increased commitment from the European Union to support human rights when aiding its neighbouring countries. But women’s rights are still very much missing in the formal documents, and thereby also in the actions taken and planned. This although the official words spoken are underlining equality.
In May 2011 the European Union revised its Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in, as the European Commission (EC) describes it, ”a rapid respons to the changes taking place in particular in the Southern Mediterranean but also in Eastern Europe”. This new strategy was adopted to show Europe’s support to the peoples of the Arab Spring and to their struggle for freedom, democracy and safety. A year on the EC has made an assessment of the implementation of this new policy so far, and the result is presented in the report Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy.
When presenting the report, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Commission Vice-President (HR/VP), Catherine Ashton, was optimistic:
- We have seen great progress in some countries. In others, we need to encourage the political leadership to take bold steps down the path to reform. I have always said that we will be judged on our work with our immediate neighbours, and I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction. We will continue to help our partners in their efforts to embed fundamental values and reinforce the economic reforms which are necessary to create what I call ‘deep democracy’, she said.
Women’s rights not in writing
The ENP defines deep and sustainable democracy as ”including free and fair elections, freedom of association, expression and assembly, the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary” etc, but there is no mentioning of women’s rights to equal participation in decision-making.
Since history has shown us that when women’s rights are not spelled out in basic documents (and sometimes even when they are) they won’t appear in reality, this could be seen as very unfortunate. Especially since Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy states that it ”is based on new features, including…a recognition of the special role of women in reshaping both politics and society”. A statement further endorsed by Catherine Ashton:
- I’ve been very privileged to meet women in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia. We need to ensure that women play their full part in society, in the political and economic life of their countries, not just because of course it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes economic and political sense. I would argue women should be at the heart of all the transformations that follow.
Actions for women through the ENP
So the question is: How have these EU statements on women’s rights been transformed into actions concerning the neighbouring countries during the past year, and what are the plans within this area for the years to come?
Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy has only one paragraph mentioning women’s rights. It states that building sustainable democracy also means ensuring gender equality and increasing the participation of women in political and economic life. But after that the paragraph just goes on observing that some of the countries last year tried to set up legislation to ensure a more balanced composition of parliaments, but that they have encountered resistance and therefore this action has not had the desired effect.
But in the accompanying document Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity: Report on activities in 2011 and Roadmap for future action, there is a list of actions taken within the ENP to establish full participation of women in society when it comes to the Southern Neighbourhood. This includes:
- A high level meeting in New York in September that ”drew international attention to the need to ensure that women play an active part in political processes worldwide”.
- The HR/VP during the Women’s Rights Forum in Libya in November announcing the launch of a programme for women’s empowerment, including capacity building and education in the region.
- A regional campaign on women’s political participation in the Middle East and North Africa launched in December, together with ”concrete projects in this field”.
- In Tunisia: promoting gender senstitive institutional and judicial reforms and women’s participation in elections.
- In Egypt: addressing women’s participation in political life through a cultural initiative called the Spirit of Tahrir.
- In Jordan: having two ”Village Business Incubators” promoting rural women’s right to participate in the labour market.
Actions to come
For the upcoming period of 2012-2013 the actions specifically mentioning women are:
- The programme Political and economic empowerment of women in Southern Mediterranean region, aiming to help marginalised women gaining access to economic and public life.
- Increased funding to the Anna Lindh Foundation and its programme Civil Society for Dialogue, targeting youth and women.
The equivalent document for the Eastern Neighbourhood – Eastern Partnership: A Roadmap to the autumn 2013 Summit – has no mention of women’s rights or participation whatsoever.
The new ENP entailed the principle of ”more for more”, meaning that the more a partner country makes progress and implements reforms, the more support it will recieve from the EU. In separete country progress reports these reforms are stated as actions that EU ”invites” the country to take. Four of the ones for 2012 mention women or gender:
Armenia invitations contain ”adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including further steps leading to the harmonisation of legislation with the EU acquis in the areas of gender equality and non-discrimination.”
Jordan invitations contain ”increase efforts to eradicate violence against women and to promote their integration in politics, socio-economic life through promoting women entrepreneurs, women’s participation in the labour market and in education, in line with the recommendations listed in the preliminary report issued in October by the UN Special Rapporteur on discrimination against women”.
Lebanon invitations contain ”pay special attention to enhancing the role of women in both public and economy sectors respectively”.
Ukraine invitations contain ”address in good time issues raised in the area of justice and home affairs, notably on combating trafficking in human beings taking into account a gender and human rights perspective”.
These are all of course good examples, but in comparison to the points on various measures regarding trade that are taking up several pages of the different documents, it is not much. Especially when accompanied by a floating language that uses non-specific words like ”leading to”, ”harmonisation”, ”pay special attention to” etc.
In other words: it remains to be seen how the EU’s bold statements on the importance of gender equality will actually be followed through in its practical dealings with the neighbouring countries the upcoming years.
After a month long campaign Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, managed to change the proposed new electoral law for Libya to secure women’s participation, writes the Euro-Mediterranian Human Rights Network, EMHRN. The new law, that was passed on February 8th, guarantees women at least 40 out of 200 seats in the Constituent Assembly that will draft the country’s new constitution. It also binds requiring parties to alternate male and female candidates on their lists for the New Libyan Assembly. Because 80 seats of the 200-member assembly are allocated to party lists, 40 women will be guaranteed seats in the assembly.
The original proposition contained a quota of 10 percent representation for women. When it was announced LWPP organized protests and set up the draft of an alternative law with the help of legal experts. And the now approved law contains many passages with the language of the LWPP draft.
-It hasn’t been an easy battle, but we thank all the members of our legal team and all the civil society members and youth groups who joined protests in public squares all around Libya in favor of a more equitable and inclusive electoral law, said Zahra’ Langhi of the LWPP to EMHRN.
Read more on EMHRN and LWPP.