12/20/2012 06:18 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Libya: A Platform for Peace -- Benghazi and Beyond

With the eyes of the U.S. media and lawmakers on Capitol Hill focusing on Thursday's hearing into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi which claimed the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, I find myself in Tripoli for a three-day conference titled, "Libya Platform Peace: National Reconciliation, Security and constitution." Among those attending: President Mohammed Magarief, Prime Minister Ali Zaydan, former armed revolutionaries, intelligence officials, and in a triumph for advancing women's rights in Libya -- newly elected female parliamentarians who now hold 16.5 percent of seats. This gathering comes at a critical time for unification of Libyans across all aspects of society who have -- for the first time -- agreed to work together to rebuild civil society from the ground up.

Convened by Karama, (an organization founded in 2005), UN Women and the Libyan Women's Platform for Peace, the conference is the culmination of a years work of campaigning across a post Gadaffi Libya. In 2012 we lobbied to adopt an alternative election law guaranteeing up to 40 seats for women (they officially hold 33); trained female leaders to deign key reforms that protect women in the new constitution; and encouraged trends towards inclusive democracy in all aspects of civil society. Now we have a mosaic of people gathered here in Tripoli who see the lessons of the past, as a catalyst for change for better integration of civil society and a brighter future for Libya. There is no peace without development of trust and dignity, and there is no development of trust and dignity without peace.

As the Capitol Hill Benghazi hearings will likely reveal, one of the biggest threats in Libya today remains security. Security is still a challenge here, but the key figures attending this conference are pushing hard for the government to come up with a transparent checks and balance system to change that. They must. At this three-day conference, we are fostering a dialog between civil society, political leaders, and law enforcement officials from all of Libya's regions in order to provide a platform for national reconciliation. In doing so we plan to forge a consensus among all participants regarding necessary constitutional provisions for protecting women's rights, and to strengthen everyone's leadership potential within the wider national reconciliation process.

While Libya's central government is trying to assert its authority over militias and Gaddafi holdouts in rural areas, the tragic attack in Benghazi that killed the US Ambassador to Libya has again turned the spotlight on the need to establish security, demobilize militias, collect weapons and enforce the central government's full control over the country. But there are encouraging trends towards Libya's transition for an inclusive democracy. In July, Libya held its first post Gadaffi elections, the country's first democratic elections since 1952. Sixty two percent of Libyans voted in the elections, with over 1.7 million ballots cast and 3,700 candidates, including 624 women, running for office.

Many of the 33 female parliamentarians that did get elected, became leaders by default. Default as they had the determination to change the status quo of life under the Gaddafi regime, by their sheer will to survive and wanting a better future for their children and the generations ahead. A great victory was for the inclusion and representation of women in these elections, yet amidst this political and security turmoil there is still much potential for progress, and a big need for constitutional reform.

For instance, there is no law that declares domestic violence or marital rape a crime in Libya. Little detailed information is available on the extent of the violence, as often goes unreported, largely because the issue is still considered taboo and shameful, and carries with it social stigma. That has to change. The UNHCR reports rape that occurs outside the home is generally not reported or discussed. Problems are sorted within the family, as most families want to conceal any violation of "honor." According to Libyan legislation, if a man rapes a woman, then he is expected to marry his victim to "save her honor." This too must change. The woman is supposed to agree to the marriage, but in reality, under social pressures, the victim has no option but to marry. In view of the shame associated with matters of violence, and especially sexual violence, there is no support system to assist the victims. It's time for reconciliation.

Yet I remain encouraged. Encouraged because of the fact we have Libya's President, Prime Minister, militia, civil society members, and newly elected female parliamentarians participating in this conference shows commitment. Commitment to change. Commitment to a new Libya. Commitment in identifying their personal goals and pledges in order to contribute positively to Libya's national reconciliation, long-term security and new path to peace and prosperity. And a commitment to think beyond the tragic events of Benghazi, with a commitment to looking ahead to a brighter future for Libya.