Though we don’t typically use this space to comment on the business of the Association, several magical things happened last month that we thought were worth sharing with a broader audience because they are intrinsic to the essence of women’s leadership—and to the mission of The Junior League.
In mid-May, more than 600 Junior League members from nearly 300 Leagues traveled to Washington, D.C. for AJLI’s 91st Annual Conference. We took advantage of our location to organize our first Hill Day, an occasion of education and advocacy during which dozens of Junior League women visited Congressional office buildings to enlighten, and in some cases change the minds of, their legislators on the most pressing issues facing their communities.
On the table were topics as diverse as human trafficking, childhood obesity, and the charitable tax deduction, a lifeline for many of the philanthropic charities with whom the Leagues partner. The efforts hearkened back to The Junior League’s work on behalf of the passage of the Clean Water Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the national free lunch program, and numerous other grassroots reforms.
In addition to this exciting day of activism, another stand-out was the funny, poignant, and empowering keynote address by Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American woman who survived brutal oppression in Saddam Hussein’s inner circle to go on to found Women for Women International, an international agency that supports women in conflict zones.
Honored by heads of state and the United Nations for her work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Rwanda, Kosovo, and South Sudan, and an author of three books, Salbi had just flown in from Egypt where she is producing a film about the women of the Arab Spring.
She shared her experiences with women who have shown extraordinary courage despite unspeakable violence and hardship and revealed how her own search for truth and peace brought her wisdom and humility.
“Express yourselves freely and live the truth within you,” she said. “Once you tell your story, you are no longer defined by your story.”
Citing alarming rates of sexual violence against women worldwide, Salbi said she learned a profound truth from a Congolese woman who said that her peace was in her heart and that no one could give it to her or take it away from her.
“By speaking up maybe the violence will stop.”
Salbi argued that marginalization, silence, oppression, discrimination, sexual violence, victimhood, and shame are among the greatest obstacles women face in making positive changes in their lives, no matter where they were born.
“Good leadership is leadership that shows vulnerability in telling a story not out of weakness but out of ownership,” she said, sharing her own harrowing tale.
She received a standing ovation.