Rarely has it been as important to combat fears and shatter stereotypes. With President Donald Trump threatening to build a wall round Mexico and ban the Muslim community from the US, listening to the voices of the 'other' is crucial. The world is a scary place right now.
Humanitarian, activist and author Zainab Salbi tomorrow launches a six-part series on The Huffington Post where she endeavors to share the stories of women who, for various reasons, remain unheard. She travels to Thailand to meet female monks battling for the right to be ordained; she enters the homes of families whose sons have joined Isis; she talks to young Muslim women living in the US who are subjected to constant abuse and violence for wearing the hijab.
Having grown up during the Iraq war (her father was a Saddam Hussein's private pilot), she realised that the news was only being reported through a male perspective, so dedicated her life to working in women's rights - including founding Women for Women International. Bill Clinton has called her a "21st century heroine" as featured in Harper's Bazaar, while Angelina Jolie describes her as "extraordinary". We talked to one of the world's most influential women about how to navigate today's murky, fearful world.
1. We need to stop romanticising or demonising the 'other'
"I want to tell stories from the other perspective, as experienced from the other culture – whether that's young Muslim women living in the US to women fighting Isis. We either romanticise or demonise the 'other'. In a world of fear and misunderstanding, the only way forward is to have the uncomfortable conversation. We need to look at the complexities of the issues at hand and try to understand why they're happening."
2. Women are still doing it anyway, regardless of the election
"Every woman was strong in their own way. When we talk about female strength, we tend to do so in a very limited way – often in a Zena Warrior way. One of my favourite lines from filming was when I was in Thailand meeting with female monks who were fighting for the right to be ordained. The male monks were very upset by it and set fire to some of the female monasteries, but the women were going ahead and doing it anyway. One female monk, who was very softly spoken and gentle, said to me, 'I look at how upset these men are, then I smile and do it anyway.' And that's what we have to remember - women are doing it anyway. There are women in Iraq fighting Isis, there are female teachers in France teaching kids about inter-faith religion in a bid to shatter fear and stereotypes. We often think of third world women as victims and that narrative needs to change. They are victimised, that's true, but they are also renegades."
3. Look beyond the media's most radical news
"I entered homes of families whose sons had joined Isis and I was scared. But nothing about those families were abnormal – there was a lot of love and sense of loss. They were like any other family, but they were in shock and in pain over what their son had done. We have to face our fears head on, because often an issue or situation is not as frightening as you think."
4. Never criticise a woman's choice because we don't always see things as they are
"Let's talk about the first episode of the series. There is a widespread stereotype that a hijab is a symbol of oppression. I discovered a very different story; these women were using them as a symbol of freedom, as a political statement. They had watched coverage of the 9/11 attacks and how the media talked about how oppressed Muslim women are, particularly those who wear hijabs, and they didn't relate to that. In that assumption, we become the oppressors of those we're attacking. These women were reversing the meaning and turning it into a choice. There's a famous quote, 'We see things are we are, not they are.'"
5. Listen harder and not just to those who shout the loudest
"I see so many women who have a beautiful relationship with their faith, and who are advocating for new narratives, but the Western media insist on reporting on the most radical voices so those are the ones we hear. The other voices are actually bigger in volume, but they're not being heard. I wonder how guilty we are of creating that monster; of only hearing the part that fulfills our own fears."
6. Your voice matters more than ever so keep talking
"I grew up in the midst of the Iraq war and saw first–hand how the conflict was only being told from the male perspective, when actually it was women running the show – working in the factories, schools, malls. The narrative we have of women is limited – it's about violence towards women or within the confines of beauty. You want to know what's going on in a country? Ask the women. Everything starts with them."
7. Don't let Donald Trump pull you down
"I am deeply concerned and deeply sad about the election results. It threatens every accomplishment women have worked so hard for. Trump legitimises every sexist boss, every example of gender-based discrimination. It's a loss for all of us and not just in the US. But we need to fight even harder to shatter fear, the fears that Trump has capitalised on; that fear of the other."
Via Harper's Bazaar UK