Alaa Murabit is a Libyan-Canadian doctor and leading international advocate for the rights of women and young people and their inclusion in peacebuilding. She founded The Voice of Libyan Women (VLW) aged 21, when the revolution broke out in Libya. Alaa is also a Trustee of International Alert.
"Although medicine and peacebuilding may seem like worlds apart, for me they share a lot of common ground. Both are spaces in which you are always trying to do better, either for the person or society. Usually in medicine, it’s very difficult to implement ‘band-aid’ solutions that are sustainable – much as it is in peacebuilding.
They also face the same major challenge, that you rarely know the full extent of the problem you are facing. Holistic solutions are best, but you often have to accept that you can’t control the whole situation, whether you’re diagnosing a disease or trying to resolve a conflict situation."
A ‘peacebuilder’ can be anyone, a doctor, a shop worker or a student for instance. They just create peace in very different ways. Peacebuilders come from all walks of life, what they really have in common is a genuine desire – and conviction – to do what’s best for their community.
Playing the long game
"Some of the most rewarding moments are changes brought about at community level, for example when I speak with young women who say my work has opened doors and inspired them.
However, I don’t think peacebuilding is something you do because you get positive reinforcement. Building peace is not the same as stopping a conflict and it's very nature is long term, societal and institutional change while still recognising and dealing with the immediate challenges of insecurity. It requires a deliberate and long-term strategy and patience.
This includes my current involvement on the Global Advisory Board for the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), which was adopted back in 2000 to recognise women’s important role as peacebuilders and the challenges they face in conflict situations. We also need to keep pushing forward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – for which I am a Global Advocate. I think it is important that they have a strong focus on peace. And my role as a High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth."
Bringing women to the table
"I’ve had to learn and accept that change will take time to be widely felt. This is a concept that didn’t come naturally to me. But realistically, fighting for gender equality is a renegotiation of power. It involves moving away from ways of thinking that have become deeply entrenched for thousands of years in all of our societies.
Take religion for example – it has been interpreted solely by men to support their right to power, economic and social influence. Be it in Libya where women are being banned from travelling alone, to the United States where reproductive rights are being decimated.
This can only change when women are equal partners in these conversations so religion can be reinterpreted and reclaimed to represent all people and reshape social and cultural norms which limit women’s rights.
We need to push for women to be at the table for these discussions so we can build more inclusive and peaceful communities."