Alaa Murabit. Photo: UNPhoto
We are putting the spotlight on women who have paved the way – the bold and the brave – and we know there are and can be many more of them.
We are pushing for #MoreWomenMorePeace.
When Alaa Murabit moved from Saskatoon, Canada, to Libya as a 15-year-old, her world changed rapidly. What had once been accepted and appreciated instead became inappropriate or even forbidden. In this new environment, the life and values Alaa had carried with her from Canada were not appreciated, wanted or allowed.
This transition was a shock, to say the least. Regardless of how much more she studied or how much smarter she was than her male counterparts, their voices always carried more weight. In Libya, Alaa realised that women were subordinate to men in every situation, and she was no exception. She, however, was of a very different opinion.
Alaa Murabit grew up in a family of 11 siblings and, for her, a place at the table was always as important as it was self-evident. It had even been crucial for her. Regardless of whether the issue was something as simple and trivial as a broken lamp, Alaa had learned as a young child that the sibling or siblings who could not, or did not have the opportunity to, defend themselves always took the blame. In Libya, she was witnessing this same phenomenon again, but on a much larger scale.
She saw how women were being robbed of their place at the table in both family contexts and in society at large, and how women were squeezed in a fusion of culture and religion. Just accepting and watching how the role of women was constantly diminished was impossible for Alaa. This is when her activism was born.
“To me it all came back to the lessons I had learned as a child. The decision-maker, the person who gets to control the message, is sitting at the table. And unfortunately in every single world faith, they are not women. Religious institutions are dominated by men and driven by male leadership, and they create policies in their likeness. And until we can change the system entirely, then we can’t realistically expect to have full economic and political participation of women,” she said in her acclaimed TED talk from 2015.
Alaa is now 27 years old and has become a strong voice and important symbol for the struggle and rights of young women. When the Libyan revolution broke out in 2011 and Gaddafi was overthrown, she took advantage of a window of opportunity that emerged in the vacuum to reclaim her place at the table, founding the Voice of Libyan Women. Together, the women in the organisation created and carried out a number of different culture- and norm-challenging campaigns that were applauded around the world.
Perhaps the most well-know campaign is Project Noor, which exposes how religion has been incorrectly used to deny that women have the same rights as men. By focusing on the meaning and significance of the holy scriptures, which for centuries have been used to suppress women’s role in society, the organisation succeeded in getting local community imams to promote women’s rights and discuss taboo issues such as domestic violence.
In 2015, at age 24, Alaa became the youngest woman ever appointed – along with 17 other advocates, including Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden – to represent the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To say she has succeeded in making both her own voice, and the voices of other young women, heard is an understatement. As an adviser and the chair of a handful of different think tanks and organisations around the world, Alaa contributes daily to young minority women gaining an ever-widening local and global audience that is willing to listen.
Alaa is convinced that all of the SDGs are actually achievable, as long as women have greater access to education and can strengthen their role in society. Without their support, contribution and help, she explains in an article in The Guardian earlier this year, it will not be possible to achieve the SDGs:
“When I look at the SDGs I think the most difficult thing to realise is that if you do not have 50 per cent of society – women – working towards the goals, you’re not going to be able to achieve them by 2030… If you do not have the full education and empowerment of women, it’s unrealistic. Personally, if that isn’t met, I’m exceptionally pessimistic about the overall agenda.”
For Sweden, just as for Alaa Murabit, women’s role in society has been and will continue to be an important and prioritised policy issue – both nationally and internationally. We believe in, and are pushing for, #MoreWomenMorePeace.
Written by Victor Persson