Alaa Murabit is not afraid.
The 23-year-old Libyan activist told 60 Minutes’s Lesley Stahl onstage on day 2 of the 2013 Women in the World Summit that other vocal women have been attacked by militias in her country. But the support of her family and community members—both male and female—motivates her to keep fighting for the rights of Libyan women in the face of whatever threats that mission may invite, she said.
Murabit is the president and founder of the Voice of Libyan Women (VLW), an organization created in the wake of the 2011 Libyan uprising to advocate for the rights of women in a postrevolutionary Libya. A recent medical school graduate, Murabit was raised in Canada and moved back to her parents’ native home of Zawia, Libya, at 15. When the revolution began in 2011, Zawia was one of the first cities in western Libya to rise up.
Murabit’s father, a doctor, became heavily involved in the initial movement, and she joined him in providing health care for rebel soldiers, often at pro-regime hospitals. Their work put them on the regime’s radar. Her father was hunted and even arrested a few times, and she was put on Libya’s list of most wanted women—because, as she explained to a roar of applause Friday, “I have a very big mouth and I don’t know how to keep my opinions to myself.”
“During the revolution, I saw phenomenally brave women taking a leading role,” Murabit recalled. “A lot of people say they were supportive, but I dislike that term. They were a foundation and they deserve the ability—following the revolution—to be a foundation in politics.” That is the focus of Murabit’s organization: to ensure that the women who put their lives on the line to fight for their country’s freedom can have a say in its future.
A large part of empowering Libyan women is battling the pervasive culture of domestic violence. A unique way to do that, Murabit has discovered, is to educate women on the preachings of their own religion. One of VLW’s anti-domestic-violence initiatives is hosting seminars focused on verses from the Quran and other Muslim scriptures, to create a dialogue through the lens of religion—an integral part of Libyan society. “Often when violence happens, people excuse it with religion,” Murabit said. “Young girls need to know that they can fight fire with fire and say, ‘No, my religion is not why you are doing this.’”
Murabit took a few days off between her graduation from medical school and her upcoming medical exams to speak at the Women in the World Summit, but school isn’t the only thing on her mind. Libya is gearing up to write a new constitution, and Murabit is concerned about how the constitutional committee will be chosen and who, exactly, will be on it. “It is the job of women’s rights groups, the media, and human rights groups to demand that not only women are involved but that minorities are involved,” she said. “Civil society, for 42 years, has not existed in Libya. We are very behind.”
Stahl closed out the interview by wishing Murabit good luck on her exams and telling her, wholeheartedly, “We gain more from you coming here than you do.”