BLOG: The New Women's Movement, From Congo To Davos

Huffington Post
Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 19:00
Central Africa
Congo (Kinshasa)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Southern Asia
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"I follow with my eyes men who are passing by. In case it is one of them, I want them to see that I am still alive, that they did not kill me, neither body nor soul, nor will they ever be able to do it."

Zainab Salbi recounted the story of Safeta, a Bosnian woman who was held captive and repeatedly raped by Serbian militants after her husband was taken to a concentration camp in 1990.

"When they were done one man said there was no need to kill her because she would kill herself. But she didn't," Zainab said, calling to mind Safeta's story as one of many that inspire her to continue her work as the CEO and Founder of Women for Women International, a humanitarian and development nonprofit.

Yet Zainab doesn't need to look far beyond her own upbringing for a story about breaking free from oppression. The daughter of Saddam Hussein's private pilot, Zainab grew up amidst war in Iraq and Iran and experienced the perils of Hussein's inner circle firsthand.

In an attempt to provide her daughter with an escape, Zainab's mother arranged a marriage to an Iraqi man in the U.S. Zainab soon found herself in an abusive marriage with a stranger and struggled to escape and forge her own life in a new country.

Clearly, she found her way and in 1993, founded Women for Women International. In the organization's 17 years, it has helped 271,000 women survivors of war access opportunities through programs of rights awareness, vocational skills education and access to jobs. They have distributed more than $89 million in direct aid and microcredit loans.

For Zainab, tackling women's issues is an integral part of addressing development issues like poverty and hunger.

"Women are impacted by almost all major crises in the world from poverty, where women are two-thirds of the poorest population in the world, to war, where women and children are 80 percent of the world's refugees. I do not see a distinction between women's issues or development issues."

Noting the efficacy of this tactic, she cites several studies that support Women for Women's approach.

"Studies have shown that women reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to men who invest 30 to 40 percent of their income in their families," Zainab said.

The World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos wrapped up over the weekend and as a Young Global Leader, Zainab hopes that world leaders will take away one critical point from the five day summit: "Women! Women! Women! We need real investments in lifting women's economic, social and health status," she said.

Zainab touched on this year's call for more female leaders at Davos; "If 50 percent of the voices you are hearing in Davos are not women, then you are missing out on at least half of the solutions and visions out there."

Although the percentage of women's participation in the World Economic Forum stands at 17 percent, Zainab remains optimistic about progress.

"I believe WEF also realizes that in order for the Forum to maintain its reputation of being one of most respected well gatherings in the 21st century as it has in the 20th century, it must focus on fuller and more equal inclusion of women."