Zainab Salbi

“Like life, peace begins with women,” says Zainab Salbi, founder and director of Women for Women International, a non-profit organization that assists women in war-torn countries and helps them rebuild their lives, families, and countries.

Salbi, the daughter of Saddam Hussein’s private pilot, has seen great suffering, having grown up with war and dictatorship; and yet, she continues to stride forward with a positive attitude focused on finding solutions. On the occasion of the International Women’s Day two years ago, Zainab wrote a letter with a plan to reverse violence and poverty in ten years, to turn around the lives of millions of women “for whom survival remains a supreme challenge and empowerment remains a foreign concept.”

Her mission still resonates.

“These women protest the fact that women make up 70 percent of the world’s poor, 75 percent of the civilians killed in war (along with their children), and according to the United Nations, receive only 10 percent of global income for 66 percent of the world’s work. They reject the narrative of violence and poverty they have inherited. They embrace a future vision for peace and prosperity, and begin by embracing their neighbors, despite whatever lines of conflict may have been drawn.”

Today, Women for Women calls for people to join them on the bridge to celebrate International Women’s Day. Through the website, you can find a bridge near you where you can celebrate women, and stand together for equal rights.

Joining together on a bridge is a metaphor for one of the three requirements that Zainab sees to reverse violence and poverty: Unite. “We must put aside our differences,” she says. The other two are to break silence, and to invest.

“World leaders must fully include women in all decision-making, from the MDGs to maternal health to monetary policy,” she says.

Salbi works tirelessly towards these goals. On the days that nothing seems to go right, I think of her, always smiling, and think of the work that her organization is doing to help those who have to suffer war and its consequences. My day-to-day problems are nothing compared to those of millions of people in the world. I open her book The Other Side of War: Women´s Stories of Survival and Hope, with photographs by Susan Meiselas, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be a man in a country like ours.

“War is not a computer-generated missile striking a digital map,” writes Salbi in The Other Side of War. “War is the color of earth as it explodes in our faces, the sound of a child pleading, the smell of smoke and fear. Women survivors of war are not the single image portrayed on the television screen, but the glue that holds families and countries together. Perhaps by understanding women, and the other side of war…we will have more humility in our discussions of wars…perhaps it is time to listen to women’s side of history.“

It’s time that we all join on the bridge, not just women, but all of us. After all, when women are happy, aren’t we all happier?

How Women for Women works

With a monthly donation of $27 per month you can help a woman living in a country at war. The money’s enough to send her children and herself to school, to learn a new profession, but not so much that these women become dependent on the donation.

The idea is not to just give them a sewing machine, but to provide the necessary training too. Women for Women conducts marketing studies to see what there’s more demand for in their region, and then trains the women accordingly. For example in Bosnia Herzegovina, they helped set up a carpentry shop, after seeing the large demand for new doors and windows to replace those damaged by snipers and bombs.

Women are also assisted psychologically, so that they can recover their dignity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than half a million women have been raped. Thanks to Women for Women, they find the strength to talk and recover emotionally. In places where this kind of discussion is culturally taboo, this service has been life altering, and has allowed generations of women to reach out to each other, and to form a community of support that previously didn’t exist.

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