INSPIRED BY ZAINAB SALBI

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Inspiring Women, no 2: Tina Brown's choice escaped a dangerous childhood in Iraq and now campaigns for women's rights... 

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, special supplement

Tina Brown is the editor of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, former editor of the New Yorker and co-creator of the annual Women in the World summit. Zainab Salbi (b. 1970) is the Iraqi founder of Women for Women International. Since 1993, her work has helped more than 250,000 victims of war, in places such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zainab Salbi’s story is extraordinary. Every weekend of her adolescence was spent at a farm outside Baghdad in the company of Saddam Hussein. Her parents, fashionable and apolitical, belonged to a social group in which Saddam coveted membership. He made her father his personal pilot, and designated both of them “First Friends”. They found themselves drawn inexorably into his web, increasingly terrified by his confidences—such as telling them how he had strangled his mistress and her mother in front of the mistress’s three-year-old child—and the sudden disappearance of members of their once-carefree circle. In her gripping memoir “Between Two Worlds”, Salbi describes how “Amo” (or “uncle”, as Saddam liked to be called) used to bring his own, oversized cooking utensils when he came for dinner. She describes his big teeth and the intense glitter of his smile.

The creeping fear of him that suffused her family drove Zainab’s strong, brilliant mother to multiple suicide attempts; and, later, to what Salbi viewed as an accountable act of betrayal. After giving her daughter a first-rate education and raising her to believe in her own independence, she insisted Zainab leave Iraq for America, for an arranged marriage to a man she had never met. Her new husband raped her. It was only when her mother was dying of cancer and living with Zainab in Virginia that she revealed she had forced the marriage to get her daughter away from Saddam. One night, after a moonlight bathe, she had seen the new way his eyes were fixed, vulpine, on her now-beautiful daughter.

After such a childhood, many women would be happy to seek serenity. Instead Zainab has given her life to women who, unlike herself, continue to live in fear.

Photograph Corbis

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Elin Hurvenes on Elisabeth Grieg

Tina Weymouth on Carol Kaye

Dame Ellen MacArthur on Hilary Lister 

Maggie Aderin-Pocock on Marie Curie 

Ruth Rogers on Alice Waters

Dawn Dixon on the Ford machinists

Mary Midgley on Mary Wollstonecraft

Jo Glanville on Mai Ghoussoub

Hilary Mantel on Anita Brookner

Jude Kelly on Lilian Baylis

Helen Clark on Gro Harlem Brundtland

Helen Bamber on Frau Mamechka