Zainab Salbi is a published author, an activist, a social entrepreneur, and founder of the Women for Women International, focusing on women facing adversity due to wars. She is from Iraq and focuses her work on giving a voice to Arab and Muslim women. Salbi has released several subversive books since 2005, most notably “If You Knew Me You Would Care,” which documents true stories of women from places such as Afghanistan, Rwanda, and Congo.
Salbi was born in 1969 in Baghdad, Iraq. Her father worked as personal pilot of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Experiencing immediate psychological abuse to her family from Hussein, Salbi chose to dedicate her adult life to the women around the world.
She moved to the United States at the age of 19. Salbi’s experience with the Iran–Iraq War sensitized her to the plight of women in war worldwide. In the early 1990s, newlyweds Zainab Salbi and Amjad Atallah, a Palestinian-American, were deeply moved by the plight of the women of former Yugoslavia, many of whom were forced into the now infamous rape and concentration camps. They wanted to volunteer to help but were unable to locate an organization that addressed these injustices and egregious wrongs.
In lieu of a honeymoon, Salbi and Atallah launched an organization that created “sister-to-sister” connections between sponsors in the United States and women survivors of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were greeted with an overwhelming response; a woman survivor of the rape camps who had lost her husband and children during the war said, “I thought the world had forgotten us….”
With the continued support of other concerned individuals, they started Women for Women International with a shoestring budget and a small team of dedicated volunteers. Since 1993, Women for Women International has supported women survivors of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Under Salbi’s tenure as the CEO of Women for Women International, the organization reached more than 400,000 women in eight conflict areas, distributed more than $100 million in direct aid and microcredit loans, trained thousands of women in rights awareness, and helped thousands more to start their own small businesses.
She has written and spoken extensively on the use of rape and other forms of violence against women during the war. Her work has been featured in major media outlets including seven times on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the Washington Post. In 1995, President Bill Clinton honoured Salbi at the White House for her humanitarian work in Bosnia. In October 2011, Salbi gave a lecture entitled “Building Bridges, Rebuilding Societies” at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.
Zainab Salbi launched the Zainab Salbi Project, an original series on Huffington Post and AOL in 2016. In 2015, she launched the Nida’a Show on TLC Arabia. She has been Editor At Large at Women In The World of The New York Times since 2015.
Salbi graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Individualized Study degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies and from London School of Economics with a master’s degree in development studies.