A talk with Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi; and who doesn’t know her. One of the famous Host and Humanitarian and Founder of Women for Women International. She is no doubt fearless lady with brains. So I had a short sneak peak with the lovely, fearless and yet so brainy women icon The Zainab Salbi. Lets have a look what she has shared with us.
Question: When did you first realize that you wanted to spend your life empowering women survivors of war to rebuild?
Zainab Salbi: I grew up with my mother’s stories about the injustice women face around the world, how their voices are silenced, the abuse they face, and how a woman should always make sure that she is economically independent and never to tolerate any physical or verbal abuse from anybody. The combination of knowing what women go through and how I need to be a strong woman made me decide at an early age, somewhere around 15, that I should focus my life on working with women. Now the years passed by and I went through other routes. Little did I know that the stories my mother told me about women facing violence and injustice would happen to me as well through an abusive marriage. When I got out of that marriage, and rebuilt my life as I document it in my memoir Between Two Worlds, I learned about the rape camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That was a turning point for me and it was when I realized I must focus my life on helping women around the world in rebuilding their lives. At that time, I was with my former husband and best friend who was the one person that believed in the importance for each one of us to act upon their dreams and that is when my journey started.
Question: As you have written three books; so do you also have favorite books which you would like to refer others?
Zainab Salbi: There are so many but I like to refer: The Color Purple, Goddess in Every Women, The Country Under my Skin, The Joy Luck Club, Development is Freedom, King Leopolds Ghost, and Orientalism.
Question: How is Women for Women International’s approach to supporting women unique?
Zainab Salbi: There are two primary ways in which Women for Women International’s program is unique:
1) We do not perpetuate women’s victim hood; and
2) Women for Women International’s model works in a comprehensive, linear way to produce measurable outcomes.
Women for Women International’s overarching goal is to help women move women from victims to survivors to active citizens. This is not a program that perpetuates the victim hood of women. Our program helps give women survivors of wars the tools to stand on their feet, which reinforces their energy and desire to rebuild their lives, families and communities. Its simplicity, clarity, and ability to address different aspects of women’s lives in tangible, measurable ways tangible deliveries are the keys to its success.
Each woman who enrolls in Women for Women International’s yearlong program receives direct financial aid and emotional support, rights awareness education, market-based vocational skills training and income generation assistance. By including emergency assistance for necessities, helping her rebuild her support network, educating her about her rights, and teaching her a vocational skill based on the demands of the local market to help her earn an income, this comprehensive model balances between meeting women’s short term financial and emotional needs with long term solutions in every woman’s life.
The Sponsorship Program, where we ask every person to sponsor a woman survivor of war by sending her $27 a month, along with a letter to start communication link between the two women is what provides the basic financial and emotional support for the sponsored woman. Upon enrollment, women form groups of 20, which becomes their women’s circle which helps them to rebuild their support networks. The rights awareness and vocational skills tracks training that they access through our centers helps equip them with needed economic, social and political tools to rebuild their lives. Finally, the focus on their employment and leadership upon their graduation helps provide tangible economic opportunities that contribute to long-term stability for themselves, their families and communities. This ripple effect is why we believe that stronger women help to build stronger nations.
Question: Are there any inspirational quotes which you would like to share with us?
Zainab Salbi: “The soul, like the moon, is new, and always new again.
And I have seen the ocean continuously creating.
Since I scoured my mind and my body, I too, Lalla am new, each moment new.
My teacher told me one thing,
Live in the soul.
When that was so, I began to go naked, and dance.”
I liked this piece the most by one poetess from Kashmir named Lalla.
Question: You have already helped more than 153,000 women in war-torn countries. How will investing in these women change the future of societies like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan? And what is the future for Women for Women?
Zainab Salbi: At the core of most wars is conflict over economic resources and political voice. To pursue change, women have focused mostly on demanding the right for political representation. These political demands have been met in many parts of the world but they have not necessarily led to a significant change in the conditions of women’s lives. In addition, efforts to improve women’s economic circumstances without attending social and political decision power have also failed to create significant change in women’s lives. Women for Women International recognizes that lasting change can be achieved only through the combination of these two elements. As part of the organization’s 10-year strategic plan, Women for Women International will help create economic and social power for a critical mass of socially excluded women in each country where the organization operates, enabling women to negotiate lasting and permanent change in their lives and communities. In addition to mobilizing women in more stable societies to help amplify the voices of the women in the program as they articulate their needs, priorities and recommendations, the organization’s programs will be designed with the following guiding principles:
• Social Power: To give women the tools so that they can articulate their needs and develop social networks that provide security and safety, as well as forming a force for actions which will change their decision making power at the community and societal level.
• Political Power: To mobilize the organization’s leadership at the local, national, and global levels with the objective of disseminating the voices of the women the organization serves, articulating the obstacles women face, and influencing policy change accordingly.
• Economic Power: To fully employ the majority of the program graduates such that there is a meaningful impact on key sectors of the economy with management and ownership in the hands of women when possible. The goal is for women to control critical elements within key industries.
Economic self-sufficiency is a critical pre-condition for women to take their rightful place in the lives of their families and their communities. In the countries where Women for Women International works, the process of identifying economic opportunity for women often necessarily turns to agriculture — a trade that can be profitable and is largely socially acceptable for women. However, female farmers are often subsistence farmers with little knowledge of how to increase their production capacity or market their crops. Women for Women International recognizes that these women need a profitable alternative to subsistence agriculture if they are to feed their families and rebuild their communities. As such, they need scalable, commercial market opportunities and technical assistance that will guide them on cutting-edge farming and marketing techniques. After much research, on-the-ground assessment and local buy-in, Women for Women International has launched a program that aims to provide profitable opportunities for women in agriculture that will not only help them to feed their families but also to increase their household levels of income and nutritional variety. This is our answer to the global food crisis, and to endemic poverty: the Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative, or CIFI. CIFI will provide 3,000 women over three years with training in how to use sustainable farming practices to grow crops that can both be sold for profit in the local market and feed their families. So far we have been able to secure funding to pilot CIFI in both Rwanda and Sudan, where the earth is already being tilled. The next country in which we hope to launch a comparable program will be Afghanistan. With insecurity and some of the harshest winters in recent history, this is a country that desperately needs food relief and income generation opportunities to break the cycle of hunger and poverty that threatens peace and stability for generations to come.