Updated: Nov 17, 2020
It seems as though Zainab Salbi discovered her life’s mission at the age of just 23 when she founded Women for Women International. However, as the daughter of Saddam Hussein’s former personal pilot, having grown up in fear under the dictatorship that kept her family in terrified service, the seed of her eventual mission may have been planted even earlier in her inspiring life.
Afraid for their daughter, Zainab’s family sought to get her to safety by arranging a marriage with an older Iraqi man living in America. Although the effort was successful in getting her out of Iraq and away from the violent dictator, the marriage was ultimately abusive and Zainab fled the relationship within a few short months. Sadly, she was unable to reunite with her family as her flight from her first husband coincided with the outbreak of the First Gulf War.
But for Zainab Salbi, these struggles seem to have fanned the flames of her inner strength. It was when she learned of the atrocities of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly the abuses of women, that she sprung into action, putting the energy of her own tragic experiences into founding Women for Women International with the aim of helping women in conflict zones. In that first year, she helped 33 Croatian and Bosnian women. Today, the organization helps hundreds of thousands of women in conflict areas, and distributes millions in aid and micro loans that have positively impacted nearly two million families around the world.
Not only has Zainab directly lifted up so many women and their families, she has also been instrumental in changing the conversation around sexual violence as an act of war. Today, the UN Security Council recognizes rape and sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and even a “constitutive act with respect to genocide.” However, the resolution that recognizes these crimes was only adopted in 2008. Zainab Salbi has been vocal about these atrocities and their impact since she began her public career in the 1990’s. Salbi has been hugely influential and inspirational in bringing these atrocities into the public eye, and demanding the global community take a stronger and more active stance on ending and preventing such violence.
Never shying away from pain and terror, Salbi spent over two decades working with women in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more. Having led Women for Women as CEO from its 1993 founding, Salbi stepped down in 2011 to focus on using the media to inspire change. Since then, Salbi has launched her own talk show, The Nida’s Show, which airs throughout 22 countries within the Arab world. The show is dedicated to bringing forward the stories and experiences of Muslim and Arab women and men. In 2016, Salbi also launched The Zainab Salbi Project in partnership with AOL and the Huffington Post. The show follows Salbi as she explores communities around the world, bringing unheard stories and painful struggles into the global spotlight to inspire the world into action.
Salbi has received countless awards, accolades and recognitions for her incredible work and global impact, and has also published several books about her personal journey, as well as her many journeys into the lives of others living in the midst of war and violent conflict.
If ever there was a time for the world to be inspired towards peace, to open their eyes to injustices around the globe, to take a stand and say “no more”, now is that time, and it is strong and deeply inspiring women like Zainab Salbi who will lead the way and inspire others to lead their communities towards a better world.
We celebrate Zainab Salbi for being a truly inspiring woman.
Do you know of an inspiring woman with the strength to truly change the world? Why not challenge her to bring that powerful inspiration forward!