In July 2014, Hala Bugaighis learned that her cousin, Salwa, had been murdered. Libya has thus lost one of its most renowned activists, a figure linked to the defense of women’s rights. After Salwa, other activists died in this North African country. “There was a setback,” Bugaighis says, “and I was afraid that everything they had done for Libya would go away”.
She decided to take her cousin’s fight further, but chose another path. Salwa was active in politics. Bugaighis has chosen the economy. He created the Jusoor organization – “bridge” in Arabic – to deal with the gulf he sees between men and women in the world of work and business.
Bugaighis, 40, will speak more about this experience this Monday (8) during the virtual event “Arab women who inspire”, organized by the Brazilian Arab Chamber. At her side will be the Palestinian Maysoun Gangat, creator of the radio Nisaa FM, one of the few dedicated to women in Arabic. The conversation will be broadcast from 9 a.m. and the video is expected to continue to be available online.
In common, Bugaighis and Gangat bet on the role of entrepreneurship to empower women, paving the way for changes in society, against the tide of conservatism.
Jusoor, for example, is a research center that has a small business incubator as one of its branches. There, Bugaighis provides logistical support and training to Libyan women. The country did not have a strong private sector until the 2000s and it still tends to appear in the lower rungs of the global competitiveness rankings. The challenges are to overcome bureaucracy, to have continuous access to electricity and to be able to export.
Bugaighis says that after the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the civil unrest that followed, the situation improved for Libyan businesswomen. “Men had to rely on women to rebuild the country and they took this opportunity to start changing society,” he says. “They are no longer seen as a barrier for families and have become a source of income. They have become more visible.
The situation worsened with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which forced many of them to abandon their businesses and turn to their families. But Bugaighis remains optimistic. Even during the worst civil conflicts, after all, Libyan women had continued to visit their business incubator – sometimes under heavy bombardment. “They kept dreaming of an alternative future.”
Palestinian Gangat, 55, also insists on the importance of fostering the ambition of entrepreneurs in the region. Ten years ago, she created Nisaa radio, aimed at female audiences. In addition to employing young journalists in an industry that tends to have more men, Gangat wants to use the platform to inspire and connect entrepreneurs in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
The creation of networks of contacts is essential in the Palestinian context. With the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the blockades around the Gaza Strip, it is impossible to move from one place to another.
Radio Nisaa trains small entrepreneurs and gives them a space to talk about their activities on air. Businesswomen also have access to free advertising time.
What usually happens, says Gangat, is that entrepreneurs talk about their struggles on the radio and then receive offers of help from the public. It tells, for example, the story of a woman who had difficulty obtaining a business license. The responsible ministry contacted her after participating in a Nisaa program.
Gangat believes that the growth of this female-led private sector can translate into greater independence at home and, as a next step, greater political participation.
There are many challenges in your context. There is a conflict with Israel, yes, but the attitudes of a conservative society in Palestine also weigh. For this reason, Nisaa FM and other NGOs have pressured the Palestinian authorities to revise their laws regarding the family and the place of women – among them, the rules governing marriage, divorce and financial rights. .
“Feminism, for me, is not a theory. It’s not something I want to follow, it’s not hard rules, ”Gangat said. “I believe every Palestinian woman is a feminist, whether she’s at home or working outside. I believe in equality, in the ability of women to do what they want to do.