Alaa Murabit was 15 years old when her father, mother and 10 siblings moved from Canada to Libya.
It was a cultural shock for the young woman. In Canada, her parents had treated her and her brothers as equals. In Libya, these dynamics were challenged by a wider society that attempted to place prohibitions on what women could do.
But when she searched the Quran, she said she found numerous examples of strong, powerful women in her faith who were leaders and innovators. Those who used religion to justify discrimination against women were using cultural standards, not scriptural standards. And often, those cultural standards existed even before Islam came into being.
When revolution broke out in Libya in 2011, women like Murabit were at the forefront of the demonstrations. But as a new government began to emerge after the civil war, Murabit noticed that women were being held back from positions of power.
During a talk for TEDWomen in May, Murabit argued that it was religious leaders who encouraged women to step to the sidelines. The only way forward, though, she believes, is to ensure women’s participation in peace processes and conflict mediation by reclaiming religion.
“The decision maker, the person who gets to control the message is sitting at the table and unfortunately in every single world faith they are not women,” Murabit said during the TED talk. “Religious institutions are dominated by men and driven by male leadership and they create policies in their likeness.”
As such, Murabit went on to found The Voice of Libyan Women, an organization that challenges societal and cultural norms to make sure women are given a place at the table -- by using the scriptures to back up their claims.
Watch her TED talk above.