When Libyan Women Set the Tone


Women and men do not experience human rights abuses in the same manner. Such violations as well as any official response to them affect women’s lives in distinct, profound, and often unseen and unspoken ways. For a society grappling with mass atrocities, it is crucial to shed light on these diverse experiences, if they are ever to be acknowledged and repaired. Space must therefore be created for women victims to share their experiences, particularly in contexts where a truth-seeking process or any other formal transitional justice mechanism has not yet been established. Libya is one such country. To help raise the voices of women victims and human rights defenders there, ICTJ has been collaborating with diverse women-led civil society organizations since 2019, bringing them together and helping them build their capacities. In part through these efforts, these organizations have grown into a vital advocacy network that is now striving to shape the country’s transitional justice agenda.

In December 2022, the head of ICTJ’s Libya program, Reem El Gantri met Dr. Turkia Al Waer, director of the organization Atwar, which supports women groups and enhances their participation in the society. A professor of sociology, Dr. Al Waer also cofounded the Women Coalition for Peace and Justice, consisting of 17 Libyan women’s organizations representing different regions and segments of society.  

The coalition works to ensure women’s perspectives and demands are taken into account in the political process to establish a constitutional basis for elections, widely seen as the gateway to ending the years-long civil conflict, as well as efforts to build national reconciliation. “Women are concerned with political stability. Women in Libya participated in the revolution and worked hand in hand with men and carrying on alongside them step by step,” explains the coalition’s advisor, Dr. Fayruz Naas. “We are equally concerned today by political stability that’s why we are working on the constitutional basis, electoral laws, and the national reconciliation.” 

In that fateful December encounter, Ms. El Gantri and Dr. Al Waer would establish a lasting partnership between ICTJ and the coalition that continues to today. As part of this collaboration, ICTJ began hosting biweekly online meetings with members of the coalition on transitional justice to improve their knowledge of the field and build their capacity to advocate for relevant justice processes and their meaningful participation in them.  

Tunisian activists and members of the "Transitional Justice Is also for Women” Network present on how they formed their alliance and the challenges they faced at the February 2023 workshop in Tunis.
Tunisian activists and members of the "Transitional Justice Is also for Women” Network present on how they formed their alliance and the challenges they faced at the February 2023 workshop in Tunis.(ICTJ)

A few months before these meetings, in June 2022, the Libyan Presidential Council put forward the national reconciliation strategy that included the establishment of a technical committee tasked with drafting a transitional justice law. It was thus paramount to equip these women with the knowledge and tools to effectively advocate for a version of the law that guarantees women victims meaningfully participate in any process and that affirms their rights to acknowledgment and repair.  

ICTJ stepped up its support to the members of the coalition in this regard, and, in February 2023, it invited them to an in-person workshop in Tunis on the importance of women participation in transitional justice processes. In attendance were members of the Tunisian network “Transitional Justice Is also for Women,” some of whom took part in the public hearings with victims held before the establishment of the Tunisian Truth and Dignity Commission. The Libyan participants were able to learn firsthand from the experiences of their Tunisian counterparts and understand the practical importance of networking and assertively pushing for women’s inclusion and participation in these processes.  

This workshop coincidently took place a few days after the Libyan House of Representatives unilaterally issued the controversial 13th constitutional amendment. Notably, a provision in the amendment established a quota for the chamber according to which only 20 percent of seats would be reserved for women representatives.  

The coalition seized the moment and, at the workshop, produced a statement rejecting the amendment and strongly criticizing the process by which it came into effect, which lacked any meaningful participation of women. In the statement, the coalition stressed the need to hold consultations with people from all segments of society and to take into consideration their perspectives and demands before issuing any national law on reconciliation. It also called on the international community to respect the will of the Libyan people to pursue democracy and to choose their representatives and leaders through free and fair elections.  

Numerous news outlets in Libya picked up the statement and ran stories about it, which members of the coalition had shared with the media. The extensive media coverage succeeded in spreading the coalition’s message and earning new allies, with various organizations and public figures requesting to co-sign the statement. According to Dr. Turkia Al Waer, “ICTJ had a major role, as it provided the coalition with a space to meet and consult on the development of a vision for the paths of transitional justice as well as the constitutional basis.”  

These activities culminated in a national conference on transitional justice, held in Tripoli in July 2023. Members of more than 20 Libyan civil society organizations representing victims from different time periods and segments of society attended the event. At the conference, participants agreed to establish a broad coalition of victims’ organizations as well as a network of organizations representing women victims and the mothers and wives of victims and missing persons. 

A Libyan participant reads over the program and concept note for the February 2023 workshop in Tunis.
A Libyan participant reads over the program and concept note for the February 2023 workshop in Tunis. (ICTJ)

Building on this momentum, in February 2024, ICTJ organized a training for Libyan women activists on the importance of women’s participation in transitional justice processes and relevant policymaking and how to ensure it happens in practice. Over 20 Libyan activists from different backgrounds and regions attended the training in Tunis, where they met with transitional justice experts and practitioners from around the world to learn about the active role women in other countries have played to reveal the truth and promote their rights.  

The participants’ response to the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. When asked about how she would use the knowledge she acquired during the training, one activist said, “First with my family . . . I talked to them about all the details of the training and transitional justice and explained to them everything I saw and heard in Tunisia . . . Then, I will work to spread the concept of transitional justice in the form of dialogue sessions and workshops for women in various regions.” 

ICTJ is proud of what these Libyan women have accomplished so far in amplifying the voices of women victims and advocates and ensuring they meaningfully participate in the country’s nascent transitional justice process. However, the road to peace and justice is long, with twists, turns, and detours. For its part, ICTJ will accompany the coalition on this journey and continue to provide expert advice, comparative experiences, and technical assistance. 


PHOTO: Head of ICTJ's Libya Program Reem El Gantri leads a group discussion on Libya's reconciliation draft law at a the first workshop ICTJ organized in Tunis in February 2023. (ICTJ)