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Women and Girls Safe Spaces in Libya: A Story of Courage and Hope

The decade-long conflict in Libya has been a source of violence and unrest causing displacements, and loss of precious human lives and livelihood opportunities. The turbulent period has resulted in an extra pressure on the public services structure, including the health care services. The already marginalized women and girls segment was the first to bear the major brunt of rising insecurities, including gender-based violence (GBV)

There are different approaches to address this reality. It begins with providing psycho-social support to survivors of violence, building their capacities to become economically independent, and helping protect their human rights to ensure a better future for them and their families.     

Implementing these approaches in its Gender Based Violence programming, UNFPA established three Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) in the East, West and South of Libya. The safe spaces provide psychosocial support and counseling services along with livelihood training to gender-based violence survivors. 

In 2020, more than 13,000 women and girls utilized the in-house and remote services provided by the WGSS. 

The journey begins

“In the beginning, I looked for ways to give back to my community, I asked myself ‘what am I good at?’. Being a nurse for over 30 years, and knowing that many women willing to join nursing as a profession required capacity building, I decided what needed to be done.” says Intisar Alabyad, a full time nurse and trainer at one of the UNFPA-supported Women and Girls Safe Spaces  in Tripoli. “I started working in the humanitarian sector after the conflict broke out in Libya.” she adds.

Intisar started volunteering; she trained less privileged women on nursing, helping them to earn their own living while building their capacities to provide quality health care support and filling the gaps in the sector.

In 2018, she joined a UNFPA-supported Women and Girls Safe Space, run by Al-Bayan organization and started providing training  to women and girls who had interest in nursing. The one-year training course launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour provides the trainees with a professional nursing diploma.

 WGSS objectives are multifaceted 

“The WGSS serves two purposes. It not only provides psychosocial support to GBV survivors, but it is also a source of empowerment, as it provides them with vocational and life skills training to earn a living. By doing that we are also supporting different sectors in Libya by strengthening capacities of the much needed human resource. This is the best way to help our communities.” says Intisar. 

A robust support system

“My role does not end by giving nursing classes. I come here every day to meet other women and socialize with them.  We became friends, we are like a family.” Adds Intisar when speaking about her daily routine at the Safe Space.  “By virtue of many services offered in the Safe Space, I got trained in sewing and now I help the sewing trainer with her class. The Safe Space offers cooking classes, outdoor activities like sports, and recreational activities as part of livelihood and psychosocial support for gender-based violence survivors.  It also provides more tailored services to those who are in need.” says Intisar.

“Many untold stories… 
“Our relation with the women in the Safe Space goes beyond that of givers and service receivers. We consider ourselves a family, and I am proud to say that most of our students from last year found employment in hospitals and clinics. It is a great feeling to see them supporting themselves and their families. I remember one of my students from last year who was last to join the class. I got to know a little bit of her background. She got married at an early age and dropped. It was her dream to resume education, but she was shy due to her age. We encouraged her to do so by providing the homeschooling option. We helped her study in the Safe Space and pass the exams; that was how she achieved her dream and success. That is what I love about my job, because it is not really just about providing women with skills, but it is about solidarity and union, mutual growth, and happiness.” Intisar Alabyad
 

What’s next?

“Along with continuing existing services at the Safe Space, we have plans to empower more women and girls by offering English learning, computer skills and other courses in demand. For these plans to materialize, we need more funding and continued support”, says Intisar while talking about the future. 

We, in UNFPA, are able to support women and girls in Libya through implementing partners, including Albayan organization, and funding from the European Union Trust Fund for Africa. There is a lot more work to do to empower thousands like Intisar to fulfill their potentials, and safeguard women and girls from violence. In the meantime, we continue to empower them to contribute to their families and marginalized communities.