What comes next after #MeToo? How will we heal from the divisions within the gender equality movement? We sat down with Zainab Salbi, humanitarian, best-selling author, and TV Host to explore these questions and more as part of our Next Now/Gender series.
Zeynep Meydanoglu: You have a long trajectory of elevating women’s rights. What’s keeping you busy these days?
Zainab Salbi: My purpose has always been to serve, speak about and support the most marginalized voices in the world: women. For 20 years, I did that as the founder and former CEO of Women for Women International, helping women rebuild their lives in war zones. I then moved into journalism to narrate the stories of women from a woman’s perspective.
Now, I am about to launch a movement called Daughters For Earth. We are inviting women to be land conservation leaders, to help the Earth nurture itself. Scientists say we need to preserve fifty percent of earth’s land and oceans if we are to tackle climate change. This doesn’t mean leaving it untouched necessarily. We have to live in it, of course. But the way we’ve live in it has created a huge loss of biodiversity. For plants and animals to come back, we need to leave half of the Earth alone, to give it time to nurture itself.
Meydanoglu: How will this work?
Salbi: Women currently own 10 to 20 percent of land worldwide because we have been marginalized from land ownership. Our appeal is for women to start purchasing fifty percent of the land worldwide and commit to becoming its custodian. For $10, you can preserve one square meter of land managed by women in Zimbabwe or the Amazon, for example.
Meydanoglu: A real merging of gender justice work with climate action! More and more people are working at these critical intersections. Are you seeing a shift in the gender equity movement?
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Salbi: The women’s movement has gone through several iterations – the #MeToo movement being the latest. There is a very legitimate sense of anger and a collective roar. It has gotten people’s attention and it also demonstrates that there are consequences for abuse, which is really good.
But if we continue to lead with anger, at some point people will stop hearing us. There is an inner fight within the movement, and it is a painful thing to witness. There’s a lot of hurt in America between Black women and white women, Latino women and Black women, rich women and poor women. We need to recognize that we hurt each other, but also that we need each other. I think there’s a longing for communities and for safe spaces, and people don’t quite know how to reach out.
Meydanoglu: How can we best bridge our disagreements?
Salbi: Personally, I am more of a diplomat. I usually have a conversation with “the other”, whoever “the other” is. And for that conversation to be productive and thoughtful, it needs to be heartful. Having said that, I admire, appreciate, and need the women who are activists marching on the street, because we all need each other. We need the activist, we need the diplomat, we need the policy makers, and we need all of us to push at the same time together for real change to happen. We need to understand, respect, and appreciate each other’s skill sets rather than compete.
Meydanoglu: Gender equality has eluded us for centuries. What’s our next best move?
Salbi: I believe we are in a critical time in history where we women have to identify our own feminine values, not as they were defined by patriarchy, by culture, or by the media. For the longest time, we just wanted more women in the room, more women with decision making power. And yes, we need the old structures dominated by men – governments, businesses, everything really – to get their act together and make more space for women. But it’s not enough for me to become a CEO if I don’t find and demonstrate a new type of leadership, based on my authentic voice. In the end this is about defining new values for the 21st century. That includes warmth and expressing our feelings and our love – even in corporate boardrooms.
Meydanoglu: What skills are needed to lead in this new way?
Salbi: We have put too much focus on our minds, statistics, data, charts. And we have overlooked the importance of intuition, emotions, and our connection to nature. It is now time for us to connect our hearts and minds. These are skills we all need to learn and women have the opportunity to lead it.
Especially after COVID, it has become clear that we need authenticity. We are connected in our vulnerability. Kindness and compassion used to be reserved for our homes and yoga studios – a woman’s issue, a soft issue – but even politicians are making it a major topic now.
Loneliness is the disease of the century. Showing up with vulnerability and authenticity is the antidote. In the end, this is not about gender. It may be gendered but authenticity crosses gender lines.
Zainab Salbi is the EP and Host of Through Her Eyes at Yahoo News and the author of Freedom is an Inside Job. At the age of 23, Zainab founded Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving women survivors of wars by offering support, tools, and access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency. She sits on the Advisory Circle of the newly launched Daughters For Earth.
Zeynep Meydanoglu is the Country Co-Director of Ashoka Turkey, and the field leader of Next Now/Gender. Prior to Ashoka, Zeynep led civil society strengthening initiatives and contributed to Turkey’s women’s movement in organizations like TUSEV, KAMER and Purple Roof Foundation.
Next Now: Ashoka’s Next Now highlights innovations in areas ripe for transformation, including Tech & Humanity, Aging and Longevity, Gender, and Planet & Climate. This series sheds light on the wisdom and ideas of leaders creating an equal world for people of all genders. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 , and Part 6 of the series.