Layla El-Wafi is a founder member of Women4Libya, a campaign that aims to promote women in the new government and civil society in Libya. Layla is taking part in Reporting back form the Arab spring event (Saturday, 10 March)
Why was Women 4 Libya set up?
W4L is a campaign started by the Libyan Civil Society Organisation (LCSO), a non-profit started by a group of Libyans living abroad last year but now includes Libyans in country too. W4L has several aims but mainly to lobby for the meaningful inclusion of women in the transition process within the political, social and economic life of the ‘new Libya’.
Why did you get involved?
This project found me as I was concerned that women were not represented in the interim governmental body, the National Transitional Council (NTC) nor visible in the high level delegations and meetings in Europe and USA at the start of the Revolution. I knew for a fact that Libyan women were extremely active and played a huge role in overthrowing the regime. Libyan women are highly qualified and can bring a lot to the table. So we started writing letters to politicians, speaking up in the media and drafted an online-petition calling on the NTC to include more women which to date has over 1500 e-signatures. That is how W4L was born.
You’re of dual Libyan/ Egyptian heritage, the last 12 months must have been pretty intense for you?
In a word: YES!
Many sleepless nights, expensive international calls and countless hours on emails and social media sites like Facebook to check that my family and friends are OK and then to try to do what I could from abroad to help.
The past year has also revived my ‘inner activist’ and pride in my roots. ‘My people’ showed their true colors and paid a high price to fight for freedom and dignity. These revolutions were not imported nor imposed. It’s amazing.
When were you last in Libya or Egypt?
I’ve visited Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in the past few months. Although in some ways it felt ‘normal’ there were noticeable differences. Namely the public expressions and street art and signs (replacing the images of Qaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali), the many new TV, print and online stations and countless conferences and meetings about the transition to democracy.
How do you feel about what’s happening there now?
Mixed. Cautiously optimistic. I’ve buckled my seat belt for a bumpy ride. My relatives and friends complain about lack of security, uncertainties about the economy and what new governments and constitutions will bring. Some are still nostalgic about the past and it reminds me of how people get in abusive relationships.
Whenever I get really frustrated or stressed out I reality check myself and think we didn’t even dream of having these conversations and concerns a year ago. It will take time.
What are the most common myths about women in the Arab region/Arab revolutions?
That we are passive and oppressed. I’ve met the most articulate, passionate and educated Arab women from across the region who represent the range of the political and religious spectrum. It reassures me that Arab women will not be silenced or sidelined!.
Other than your event, what are you most looking forward to at WOW?
The Equals Live 2012 concert and other artistic/music events. It will be a welcomed respite from the countless political debates and discussions I’ve been part of in the past months.