As the world awaits the results of Libya’s first free national election in 60 years, the Global Fund for Women knows that violence against women does not cease just because people can vote.
While the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath are opening spaces for women’s involvement, there also exists a strong backlash against women’s rights and gender equality. People are becoming citizens anew, but unlearning old practices and habits is not easy. New democracies call for women’s groups to take risks and be nimble with their strategies just to be heard.
Last month, we surpassed the $100 million mark in grantmaking—more than $100 million granted over 24 years. We have kept a keen eye on breakthrough groups in emerging democracies. We gave first-time grants to partners like, The Voices of Libyan Women in Libya and Forum for Community Change and Development in South Sudan. Though relatively new, these groups collaborate with others in their regions, a hallmark of Global Fund grantees. Evidence and expertise prove that well-networked groups like these have a better chance of success in helping to shape the future of their countries.
Violence and Democracy in Libya
Our grantee partners and advisors tell us that in emerging democracies, there are specific kinds of violence against women: sexual harassment and physical assaults during demonstrations and violence in detention and prison facilities. Sexual harassment is used as a strategy to intimidate and threaten women who want to be politically active. Women are being beaten and arrested, harassed, and subjected to virginity tests and body searches. They are being chased out of public squares and polling stations.
Take the town of Zawiya, 23 miles from the Libyan capital, where much of the fighting to overthrow the Gaddafi regime happened. It was also where 22-year old Dr. Alaa Murabit, co-founded The Voice of Libyan Women in August 2011. Within a very short time, with much enthusiasm and technical know-how, the group started a women’s center, offering courses in women’s rights and economic empowerment. They also organized the One Voice Conference, an event that mobilized Libyan women and stimulated political dialogue. To promote the importance of women’s participation as candidates and voters in the upcoming elections, The Voice of Libyan Women launched a YouTube campaign that was viewed over 3,200 times.
Changing Behavior In South Sudan
Following its independence in July 2011, South Sudan established a constitution that supports human rights and good governance, however the country continues to struggle with the challenges of nearly two million displaced persons from 22 years of civil war, as well as daunting levels of poverty, and relatively weak government institutions.
UNICEF estimates that 43 percent of Sudanese girls have children by the age of 17, as sex work and early marriage become viable alternatives in a situation of extreme deprivation. Since the end of the civil war, domestic violence has increased as husbands reverted to more traditional roles as the head of household. In order to change behaviors, Forum for Community Change and Development trains women in human rights monitoring and advocacy.
Global Fund knew FOFCOD was a good match for its first grant in the country due to the group’s well-organized outreach strategy to involve women in the 2011 referendum elections and the peace processes. With a common agenda and national platform in place, they brought together representatives from women’s groups to encourage women's participation in local and national elections. By supporting women's representation in social, economic, and political spheres, FOFCOD is emerging as the country’s leading voice for women's rights.