Interview by Shahed Ezaydi

Together We Build It (TWBI) is a non-profit organisation that was founded and launched in 2011 to support a peaceful democratic transition in Libya, through empowering women and youth to participate in the political and public sphere, and emphasising the relevant role of women and youth in the peace building process. They have set up a Libyan Woman Database – the first professional network for women – and the 1325 Network in Libya: "a network of civil society organisations and independent activists from all over Libya, gathered to work together: on promoting the important role of women in the peace and security process, and to advocate for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325."

One of their co-founders – Rida Al Tubuly – was named on the BBC’s 100 most influential women list for her work in gender equality and peace. As a woman with Libyan heritage, I was both delighted and intrigued when I saw her on this list, and immediately started looking into her and her organisation’s work in Libya. They have done so much in such a short space of time. So, I reached out to TWBI to speak to them about the vital work they are doing for women in Libya.

Can you tell us a bit about Together We Build It (TWBI) and how it all came about?

Together We Build It was founded in 2011 straight after the revolution with the efforts of assisting the democratic transition post-revolution. Since then, our motive has grown to focus on women's inclusion in the democratic and political process, ensuring that the elections taking place include a fair and equal representation of women.

And so, we developed and worked on many projects and campaigns to support Libyan women’s engagement in the political transition. Through our lobbying amongst other NGOs, we actually managed to secure a 30% quota for women in office. From this, we continued our advocacy work to strengthen the political landscape in Libya.

Here in the UK, we don’t hear or read that much in mainstream media about the situation in Libya. For those that don’t know too much about it all, could you tell us what has been happening in Libya since the death of Gaddafi in 2011?

Well since 2011 and post-Gaddafi’s death, Libya has undergone a lot of change and quite quickly. Things were changing for the better and the Libyan people had their very first electoral experience shortly after the revolution. However, these changes unfortunately didn’t go as originally hoped and the situation has erupted into chaos and hasn’t really settled down since. And ever since, there have been ongoing conflicts in different pockets of the country.

These conflicts have mainly between ‘governments’, which have literally been piling up since the revolution in 2011, as they all refuse to leave their positions when their time in office is up. Old conflicts have also been reignited between tribes and locals of different areas, who are all searching for more power and control. So, we have conflict, violence, and chaos at every level.

What’s it been like for women in Libya during all the ongoing conflict? How has the conflict affected women? Have any changes occurred?

The situation has definitely been especially difficult for women. A lot more restrictions were placed on women due to the lack of security, armed conflicts, and absence of law enforcement.

Our rights have constantly been silenced and ignored. It’s become such a struggle for women to even just have the basic freedoms to move, travel, or work without coming across obstacles from society or the militias currently in power. The violence and chaos has definitely been used by some as a reason to reinforce women’s submissive position in our society under the guise of security and protection.

Has TWBI come up against any challenges or pressures? For example, from the community or from governments? And if so, how do you go about tackling these difficulties?

Of course! We have focused on political change and allowing women’s voices to be heard in a male dominated arena, so we have come across a fair share of challenges in this process.

People have tried to reduce and silence our work on many occasions claiming that this is not important or a priority in the current situation. But the truth is, if women and the youth could have had their say in the conflict, things would have turned out very different compared to what it’s like today. Our answer to tackling this is always to approach people in relatable ways and to explain our ideas whilst also allowing space for healthy debate and dialogue.

Do you find that the younger girls you work and interact with are starting to reject stereotypical gender norms and roles?

Definitely - when we really think about and comprehend how those ideas that seem small can affect your life in a major way and waste so much of your time, effort, and abilities; they simply become unacceptable and really drives the motivation for meaningful change.

As a Libyan woman born living in the UK, I have found that people in the West have certain stereotypical views of Middle Eastern women, and Muslim women in general – how do you as an organisation and as women combat these views? And what can be done to dispel these stereotypes?

Yes, we try to explain what it’s really like for women in Libya living their daily lives. And what we as a grassroots organisation hope to change for Libyan women, and how our work will hopefully play a large and significant role in bringing about this change.

We’ve used social media platforms, put on workshops, and engaged in local, national, and international events. Our latest campaigns using comics has garnered a large response. And Rida being included on the BBC’s list will hopefully allow us to continue these conversations on the international stage and show the world our work and what Libyan women are capable of.

You can read more about TWBI here and follow them on Instagram here.