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Source: Libya Herald

The first ever International Women in Libya (IWIL) meeting, held yesterday at the Corinthia Hotel, attracted fifty women from 17 countries.

IWIL is a new local network for both expatriate and Libyan women who want to exchange ideas and socialise with other internationally-minded female professionals who live and work in Libya.


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From strangers to friends: IWIL’s first meeting      (Photo: Tom Westcott)

 

“As soon as I walked in I knew I liked it,” one Libyan woman said.

 

It was difficult not to like. Tables decorated with flowers were placed around the Corinthia’s Athenaeum Spa indoor pool, the edge of which was scattered with rose petals, and women greeted one another with big smiles and warm welcomes.

 

Conversations instantly sprang up about work. Everyone was talking about what they did, how long they had been here and how they found life as a woman in Libya.

 

There was an eclectic mix of women, of which around one third were Libyan. Some women work here freelance, others work for Libyan or international companies or NGOs, and others are connected to embassies and the diplomatic corps. With dentists, teachers, civil engineers and lawyers, there was plenty to talk about.

 

“It’s a revelation that there are so many women in Libya doing different things,” said Jessica Riordan who works for the Mine Action Group.

 

Stories were exchanged about everything, from how life had changed since the revolution to the difficulty of getting credit and loans from banks; from the importance of including women’s rights in the constitution to cheese selections in the local supermarkets.

 

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity to meet people of like minds with a view to the progression of Libya,” teacher Rabia Umm Housam told the Libya Herald. She said she hoped that the losses of the past could be overcome and the focus shifted to building a brighter future in Libya for children and grandchildren. “We need to make sure there is happiness again,” she added.

 

Personal experiences were also shared, about marriage, divorce, children and grandchildren, from the difficulties of being a Western woman married to a Libyan man to declarations of love from taxi drivers. Some of the more challenging aspects of being a woman living in Libya were also discussed, such as safety concerns and receiving unwanted attention from men.

 

One thing everyone agreed on was how difficult it was to meet other like-minded women in Libya, especially outside the workplace. IWIL was the perfect antidote. There were structured getting to know each other sessions, an open microphone opportunity, a tour of the Athenaeum Spa’s treatment rooms and the chance to contribute ideas about the future of IWIL.

 

“It’s really interesting to see such a variety of nationalities here,” said Iman Jazwi, one of the volunteer helpers. “I think it is promising for the future of Libya that international women are coming to the country and working here without problems,” she said, adding that she hoped that there would be many more IWIL events.

 

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Amazing desserts laid on for IWIL by the Corinthia (Photo: Tom Westcott)

 

The Corinthia laid on a lavish spread, which one woman described as “the best food in Libya,” and everyone left clasping goody bags, including a voucher for a free massage or facial at the spa.

 

“We’d like to thank Corinthia for their huge generosity and support in making this day happen,” said Yolanda Zaptia, co-founder of IWIL, “they pulled out all the stops for us.”

 

Never were the words of Irish poet W.B. Yeats: “There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet,” more true that at IWIL. Women entered the room as strangers and left as friends, having exchanged business cards and numbers, with promises to meet again.

 

IWIL was founded by Zaptia, a director of Know Libya consultancy, and Adela Suliman from international law firm Clyde and Co.

 

It will hold monthly meetings and the next event is on Saturday 9 March.

 

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