Libya’s first woman foreign minister, Najla el-Mangoush, will be sworn in next week as part of a new unity government, a rare female voice at the top table whose appointment many Libyan women welcomed on Thursday.
Mangoush, a lawyer who had a role in the transitional council that briefly governed Libya after its 2011 uprising, will be joined by four other women in the cabinet, including Halima Abdulrahman as justice minister.
“I think this is a win for all of us women in Libya. I hope it’s a first step to going further: a woman reaching head of government,” said Afia Mohammed, 34, a pastry maker in Tripoli, adding it would encourage more women to enter politics.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh’s interim government emerged through a United Nations talks process and is mandated to unify Libya’s divided state institutions and oversee national elections in December.
The 75 Libyan delegates selected by the U.N. to take part in those talks laid out a commitment for the new government to include women in 30% of senior government roles, including in top cabinet posts.
Women represent only 15% of the posts in Dbeibeh’s cabinet but the proportion will rise when deputy ministers are appointed, he has said.
Elham Saudi, a lawyer and talks delegate, said: “It’s a stepping stone towards fuller representation.”
She said the quota was a result of women in the forum being “absolutely relentless on this point” despite having big differences on other political issues.
As the first meeting took place in Tunis, where Saudi said women delegates faced a barrage of sexist online abuse, Hanan al-Barassi, a female lawyer and critic of rights violations, was shot dead on a busy Benghazi street.
When the Libyan state crumbled after 2011 and myriad warring factions seized territory, women suffered a wave of violence and those in official positions were nearly all men – until now.
“This will give an opportunity for other women to join the work in sovereign positions. The five ministers will be role models,” said Lamees BenSaad, a women’s rights activist and another member of the U.N. talks forum. “We have been fighting a long time for this gain.”
Opposition to women having a big public role is not only held by men. Tahani Qarouq, who makes wedding delicacies in Tripoli, said she did not agree with women running cabinet ministries or state institutions.
But Hanan Malouda, selling beauty products in the market, said women in government would be good for Libya. “Hopefully they will have more compassion for us,” she said.