In Libya, Islam and a Purple Hijab Help Spurn Domestic Violence against Women

Article excerpt

Domestic violence against women and girls is not unsolvable. Here in Libya, where young women are finally beginning to speak up about this serious problem, were learning how Islam and a purple head scarf, or hijab can help address it.

Violence against women is not new around the world, including in Libya. But since the countrys liberation in October 2011, such violence both in and outside homes has been exacerbated by a lack of law and order. As the new government works to improve security, civil society must make sure that Libyans and their families are well aware how a lack of accountability for this violence harms families and communities.

In September 2011, I founded The Voice of Libyan Women, an advocacy group to help women take an active role in the economy, politics, and society. Our organization, like many others, represents the struggles of citizens in securing their rights in a newly democratic nation.

We first tried to address violence against women by proven international models. We needed to raise awareness, and so we handed out eye-catching informational fliers. Yet schools would not open their doors and shopkeepers would not allow us to leave our leaflets. Even the young men and women we targeted would immediately throw away the materials. Our team was at a loss.

But we did not give up. Instead, we chose a new grass-roots awareness campaign that focused on Islams teachings against violence, including against women. The result was the February 2012 debut of International Purple Hijab Day in Libya. An annual event, it is first and foremost a reminder of Islams strict stance against domestic violence.

Libya, a Sunni Muslim country, is relatively conservative, both in its religious and social practices. When Libya drafts a new constitution, it is expected to be strongly influenced by sharia, or religious law. For most Libyans, Islam was the best hope under a dictatorial regime, and it remains their moral compass.

Mistakenly, many also believe myths about Islam condoning violence against women. In a country closed off from much of the world for decades, foreign and especially Western influence is viewed with strong suspicion. As our group learned early on, concern about domestic violence is viewed as Western already difficult to discuss because such issues are considered private, familial ones.

Were slowly turning this resistance around with our Purple Hijab Day. This year, 13,000 Libyans united to support action against domestic violence. Teachers, scholars, doctors, and imams in more than 25 schools and 17 Libyan cities spent a week conducting seminars and distributing surveys. …