Editor’s note: This article was a collaborative effort between SPARK, a Dutch nongovernmental organization that focuses on creating jobs for young people in fragile states, and Al-Fanar Media.
The United Nations’ latest efforts to broker a cease-fire between the armies warring for control of Libya have floundered. Yet despite the continuing conflict, or perhaps because of it, fresh hopes are emerging for Libya’s women to claim a greater role in rebuilding their country’s economy.
SPARK, a Dutch non-governmental organization focused on higher education and entrepreneurship in post-conflict countries, is working with partner organizations in Libya to help women reach that goal.
Conflicts can often upend existing gender hierarchies. For example, in Europe and the United States, the Second World War left so many men dead or injured that women were required to enter the civil and military workforces to sustain industries and the economies. In the following decades, women campaigned for greater opportunities in employment, politics and power.
Libya is at a similar turning point now.
“This is the golden opportunity for Libyan women,” says Hala Bugaighis, founder of Jusoor for Studies and Development, a policy research organization that is one of SPARK’s partners in Libya. “I don’t think that women are willing to go back to the shadows anymore.”
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Aya Mahjoub, the founder of a training, language and consulting center in Benghazi, shared that sentiment. “War has forced Libyan women to enter the job market, often without enough awareness, skills and experience,” she said. “Therefore, training for entrepreneurship is very important. It could be more important than funding, because a project can’t survive without good skills in management and planning.”
Najla Al-Missalati, also of Benghazi, founded an initiative called She Codes, which teaches women how to code and program. Al-Missalati also hopes to see more support for entrepreneurs in Libya. “The need for funding and mentorship for entrepreneurs in Libya is very important and can really make a difference if it is implemented well,” she said.
The Employment Gap for Libyan Women
Libya’s women are highly educated. In a 2013 report, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems found that there were almost the same number of women holding a bachelor’s degree (or higher) as men, and 77 percent of Libyan women under 25 years old intended to pursue higher education, compared to only 67 percent of young men.