Hivos International

Shahrazad Maghrabi: helping women entrepreneurs get ahead in Libya

Since July 2014, Shahrazad Maghrabi has been living in forced exile in Cairo, after death threats made her leave her native Libya. Born in Tripoli into a privileged family, she lived a carefree childhood. But the school where she sang songs with her classmates no longer exists in the Libya ravaged by civil war after the fall of dictator Ghaddafi.

After completing her studies in the UK, in which she switched from political science to economics, she returned to Libya and was recruited immediately by an oil company. Shahrazad was only 24 and yet succeeded in climbing the ladder surrounded by men. She worked 12-hour days tirelessly, the only woman in a man’s world.

At that time, the so-called Ghaddafi’s revolutionary committees frightened some, but their propaganda operations did not affect her. Sarcasm helped her deal with this ‘1984 world’, where everyone was constantly spied on. She thanks her father for helping her gain confidence in herself and her own abilities - as a human being, a citizen and a woman - on equal footing with men.

After an absence from Libya in the UK and Dubai from 1993 to 2006, she returned to Tripoli as society was starting to open slightly. When the sparks of the Arab Spring reached Libya, she began participating in the uprising, believing in merit, justice, perseverance and the value of hard work.

After the revolution, a large number of organisations focusing on women rights, education, good governance and election monitoring were formed. One of these, Libyan Women's Forum, was founded by Shahrazad to advocate for women’s empowerment and political participation. However, in today's Libya it is not easy operating on the ground, "It's too dangerous," she explained to the Middle East Monitor. "Now we need to operate from underground."

Although the office of Libyan Women's Forum is closed and several other members of the organisation have also left Libya, Shahrazad Maghrabi is more determined than ever to continue the fight for women’s political participation and economic empowerment, despite the chaos afflicting her country. She uses her lifelong experience in the oil sector and her business skills to help women set up private businesses. With her wide network of activists, female politicians and entrepreneurs, she realises that freedom and equality call for sound political leadership linked with economic opportunities. It is a daunting task, but with the spirit of Shahrazad, few things are impossible.