Zainab Salbi

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Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi(2).png
Zainab Salbi (2013)
BornSeptember 24, 1969 (1969-09-24) (age 50)
Alma materGeorge Mason University (BA in Sociology and Women's Studies),
London School of Economics (Master's in Development Studies)
OccupationAuthor, Media Host, and Founder of Women for Women International
Spouse(s)Amjad Atallah (1993) divorced (2007)

Zainab Salbi (Arabic: زينب سلبي; born 1969) is an Iraqi women's rights activist, writer, and public speaker. She is the Founder of Women for Women International, author of several books, and host of Through Her Eyes with Yahoo News and #Me Too, Now What? original series on PBS.

Early years[edit]

Salbi was born in 1969 in Baghdad, Iraq. Her life was impacted by her first hand experience of war as she lived in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war, as well as fear and dictatorship due to her family's relationship with Saddam Hussein. Her father was the former personal pilot of the Iraqi dictator as well as head of the Iraqi civil aviation. Experiencing immediate psychological abuse to her family from Hussein, Salbi's family managed to send her out through an arranged marriage to an older Iraqi American living in the US at the age of 19. The marriage ended up being abusive and though she managed to escape three short months after, she never managed to get back to Iraq due to the First Gulf War that took place months after her arrival to the US in 1990.

Salbi's experience with war sensitized her to the plight of women in war worldwide. When she learned of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, few years after her arrival to the US, she decided to act by founding Women for Women International with her second husband Amjad Atallah and dedicating her life to serving women survivors of wars. Salbi was only 23 years old at the time and the group started by assisting 33 Croatian and Bosnian women in 1993.  


Under her leadership as Women for Women International's CEO (1993-2011), the organization, humanitarian, and development efforts grew to helping more than 478,000 women in 8 conflict areas and distributing more than $120 million in direct aid and micro credit loans that impacted more than 1.7 million family members. Salbi grew to hold the philosophy that access to education plus access to resources lead to lasting change in women's lives.    

Salbi has written and spoken extensively on the use of rape and other forms of violence against women during war. Her work has been featured in major media outlets including several times on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1995, President Bill Clinton honored Salbi at the White House for her humanitarian work in Bosnia. She was also identified as one of the 100 most influential women in the world in various outlets from Time Magazine to The Guardian.

After nearly 20 years of work with women survivors of wars from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Afghanistan, Salbi came to realize that the secret sauce for change in women's lives is inspiration. As a result, she announced her resignation from Women for Women International in 2011 to explore the “world of inspiration” through the media sector.

Salbi was recently selected as a jury of The Hilton Humanitarian Prize - the biggest award for humanitarian work throughout the world. Salbi sits on the Board of Directors of Synergos and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).

Media work[edit]

In 2015, Salbi launched a ground breaking talk show with TLC Arabia called The Nidaa Show. She dedicated the show, which aired across 22 countries in the Arab World, to the acknowledgment of Arab and Muslim women, their narratives, challenges and accomplishments, and started it with the historic first interview of Oprah Winfrey in the Arab world. The show won Salbi several awards including being identified as #1 Most Influential Arab Women by Arabian Business, one of the 100 Global Thinkers in the World by Foreign Policy Magazine and Oprah identified her as top 25 women changing the world to People Magazine.  

Salbi then launched The Zainab Salbi Project, original series with Huffington Post (2016), #MeToo, Now What? with PBS (2018), and Through Her Eyes with Zainab Salbi, original series with Yahoo! News (2019).


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 master's degree in development studies.


  • George Mason University, Honorary Doctorate (2019)
  • Glasgow University, Honorary Doctorate (2019)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Award - Champion for Women Survivors and Inspirational Global Journalist (2019)
  • One of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People, Watkins (2019)
  • One of the 100 Most Powerful Arabs, Gulf Business (2019)
  • One of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers, Foreign Policy Magazine (2016)
  • One of 25 Women Changing The World, People Magazine (2016)
  • One of the 100 Most Creative People in Business for being a voice of change in the Middle East, Fast Company (2016)
  • One of the World's 100 Most Powerful Arab Women, Arabian Business (2016)
  • One of the Most Influential Women on Social Media, Wear Your Voice (2015)
  • One of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women, Arabian Business (2015)
  • Honorary doctoral degree from York University (2014)
  • One of the Most Influential Women on Twitter, Fortune Magazine (2014)
  • Visionary Leadership Award - International Festival Of Arts and Ideas (2011)
  • Austin College Posey Leadership Award (2011)[1]
  • David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2010)
  • World Economic Forum's Young Global Leader (2007)
  • Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, on behalf of Women for Women International (2005)[2]
  • Forbes Magazine Trailblazer Award (2005)
  • Harper's Bazaar 21st Century Heroines nominee (2003)
  • Harper's Bazaar 21st Century Heroine (nominated by President Bill Clinton)[3]
  • Time magazine Innovator of the Month for her pioneering work as philanthropist
  • Honored by President Clinton at a White House ceremony for her humanitarian work (1995)


  • Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam, 2005, ISBN 9781592401567, OCLC 948315384
  • Hidden in plain sight : growing up in the shadow of Saddam, London : Vision, 2006. ISBN 9781904132974, OCLC 768470387
  • The Other Side of War: Women's Stories of Survival & Hope Washington, D.C : National Geographic, 2006. ISBN 9780792262114, OCLC 150261088
  • If You Knew Me You Would Care New York : PowerHouse, 2012. ISBN 9781576876190, OCLC 920738001
  • Freedom Is an Inside Job: Owning Our Darkness and Our Light to Heal Ourselves and the World, Sounds True, Incorporated, 2018. ISBN 9781683641773, OCLC 1077718721



External links[edit]