Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Blog

By Taif Jany

2012 Summer Intern

Recognized by the Time Magazine as “someone who gives women a voice,” Zainab Salbi is one of the most inspiring human and women’s rights activists around the world. Zainab is the founder of Women for Women International, and has served as the organization’s CEO from 1993-2011. Born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, Zainab’s life was shaped by many events; some were happy, while others were extremely terrifying. Zainab’s father used to be the personal pilot for former President Saddam Hussein. In an interview, Zainab says “my parents knew Saddam Hussein. It was a social relationship, and what he liked about my family was the fact that they were not political.”

However, Zainab knew that she could not escape from the political scene and she was well aware of all the atrocities that Saddam’s government committed. As a result, Zainab grew up learning to fear his dictatorship. Zainab indicates that her mother was very worried about her safety and suggested that she should marry someone and leave Iraq. Zainab’s mother arranged a marriage in the United States, and Zainab grudgingly complied with her mother’s wishes. Shortly after her arrival to the United States, Zainab left her husband because he was very abusive. “I was definitely raped, there is no doubt.” Zainab says. Later on, Zainab decided to move to Washington D.C. and found someone she fell in love with.   

One of the most influential reasons that pushed Zainab to work for and help women around the world was a magazine’s article about raped women survivors. Because of her past experience with her ex-husband, Zainab knew that she “had to do something.” Thus, Zainab started Women for Women International and began her journey in fighting for women’s rights all around the globe. Since 1993, Women for Women International has helped more than 315,000 women war survivors by offering them access to social and economic opportunities. The organization does so through rights awareness training, vocational education, and access to income generation opportunities, which will ultimately help the health of their communities through political and economic contributions.

Zainab has written two books that are highly praised around the world. The first book is a national best seller, called Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny, Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam. In which she describes her life struggles as she was living under Saddam’s dictatorship. The second book is called The Other Side of War: Women’s Stories of Survival and Hope, in which she describes stories of women who are living through ongoing wars and crises.

Due to Zainab’s passionate and constant efforts in protecting women and human rights around the world, she was recognized by President Bill Clinton as one of the Harpers Bazaar’s 21st Century Heroines to honor her actions, faith and determination to make a difference. He also awarded her for the work the she has done in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Zainab was awarded the 2010 Rockefeller Bridging Leadership. She is one of the 22 members of the Clinton Global Initiatives Lead Program. This program brings together a selected group of accomplished young leaders to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenging.

In 2011 Zainab was named one of the top 100 Women: Activists and Campaigns by the Guardian. She was highlighted as a female faith heroine by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Zainab was also recognized as one of the 10 extraordinary women who shake the world by Newsweek and the Daily Beast. She was also acknowledged by the Economist intelligence Unit as one of the most inspirational woman in the world.

Zainab is a member of the UN Secretary General Civil Society Advising Group focusing on the UN security resolution 1325. Her organization, Women for Women International, has raised about $103 million to assist more than 1.7 million family members around the world. Women for Women International is the first women’s organization to receive the 2006 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Zainab received her Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and her Bachelor’s degree from George Mason University.

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