2 courageous candidates defy standards in Libya

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Two women have registered in the Libyan elections to run for president, defying norms, sexist jokes and condescending comments.

Even when political activist Laila bin Khalifa ran into one of her male rivals in the December 24 election, he scoffed at her candidacy, wondering if she expected to win any votes.

The fact that Khalifa is one of only two women to run for president out of a pool of 98 registered candidates is proof that a decade of chaos has entrenched Libya’s patriarchal politics.

With the election still uncertain as rival factions vie for the rules, the pitch remains dominated by gunmen and political leaders who have ruled the fractured country since its 2011 uprising.

“When I announced my candidacy, I saw comments saying my place was at home, cooking. I tell them ‘My place is everywhere,'” she told Reuters.

Khalifa, 43, from the mountainous town of Zuwara in western Libya, has been a leading figure in the “30% campaign” demanding that the interim government honor its pledge to have women in the near future. less than a third of the highest government positions.

Although the government appointed a woman foreign minister for the first time, it fell short of the 30% target.

“Agreements that take place in closed rooms are not always fair,” Khalifa said, referring to the political stampede that has sidelined some women.

In the Tripoli villa that serves as his campaign office, with lists of phone numbers stuck to the walls, his four young staff questioned whether to launch his program with events in the capital or in the south. from Libya.

The official campaign has yet to begin as the electoral commission and courts consider appeals over the eligibility of some candidates – a process fraught with political rivalry and threats to drop the ballot.

The election commission’s initial decision last month disqualified 25 candidates, but Khalifa and the other woman in contention, Hunaida Tumia, were both accepted.

The two women are based in western Libya, which was separated from the eastern regions after a warring faction split in 2014 that the current peace process and elections aim to resolve.

Ability to lead

Libya has seen little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, with control of territory, government departments and political institutions contested by a myriad of armed groups.

Rights groups recorded numerous incidents of violence against women, especially by activists who tried to hold armed factions to account.

Khalifa intended to run in the parallel parliamentary elections slated for early next year, but when looking for a presidential candidate who could represent her political ideas, she realized that she should do so. -same.

“I have met personalities and none have convinced me,” she said.

The long list of presidential candidates includes an array of former prime ministers, ministers and other politicians from the various transitional periods and parallel administrations that have characterized the last decade of Libya.

The other candidate, Tumia, 29, has a background in government and business after working for the Libyan state investment fund and running a healthcare company in Tripoli.

Hunaida Tumia, one of only two women to run in Libya’s first presidential election, checks her phone during an interview with Reuters in Tripoli, Libya on December 1, 2021. (Reuters Photo)

“In the presidential elections, there is a reluctance, even a discouragement of women and their ability to make decisions,” she said, while adding that most of those around her supported her decision to run. .

“I was told to stick with the legislative elections because I had a better chance than in the presidential election. But I was convinced that I had the capacity to lead.”

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