When word of the demonstration spread through Facebook, Inas Miloud was ready to act. Sitting at a USAID-supported information center in western Libya’s Nafusa Mountains, Miloud got online and exchanged messages with other activists who were planning to rally for women’s representation on the committee that will draft the nation’s new constitution. On June 1, 2013, she traveled to Tripoli, took to the street, and made her voice heard.
“Without the information center, I would not have heard about the demonstration or been able to take part,” said Miloud.
Empowering women and connecting activists are central to the success of Libya’s transition from four decades of dictatorship to a democratic future. Because the country has a small population spread out over a vast and often harsh landscape, the Internet is an important avenue for activism, particularly among traditionally marginalized communities in peripheral areas.
USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives is responding by creating platforms for inclusive and effective civil society participation in the political process. One example is the women’s information center used by Miloud in Yefren, a population hub in an isolated area of the Nafusa Mountains that is home to the Amazigh community.
Managed by the Tiwatriwin Association, the information center began in June 2013 with 12 computers, an Internet connection, and training for 24 local women in basic software and social media skills. Equipped with tools and training, women in Yefren have used the center to join advocacy campaigns, start small businesses, and spread awareness of local issues. When community members in Yefren held demonstrations to promote recognition of the Amazigh language and greater representation of Amazigh in the constitution-drafting process, local activists used the center to post reports and photos of the event to gain national attention.
"It is more than just an information center. It is a place to empower women and help them have a positive outlook on the future,” said Miloud, who works for the Tiwatriwin Association.
In addition to political engagement, the center has encouraged income-generating activity. Rabiaa* and Amaal*, two women who attended the trainings, discovered cooking websites while learning how to browse Internet sites. As a result, they were motivated to open their own cookie shop. Tiwatriwin will help them advertise their shop, create accounts on social media, and access the center to upload pictures and publish their own recipes.
Now, the center is growing. The Tiwatriwin Association had been unsuccessful in garnering support from local government in the past. After seeing the active participation of women in the information technology courses and the high turnout at the center, the Yefren Local Council decided to partner with the Association and provide an additional 12 computers.
With many tough transition issues looming on the horizon, Libya will be hearing more from the women of Yefren.
*Full names withheld for privacy reasons.
Last updated: May 14, 2014