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The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

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A Call to Action


The butterfly effect is a metaphor for the concept that small, seemingly insignificant events—like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings—can produce tremendous and unanticipated consequences. In this blog, Zainab Salbi, the founder of the humanitarian group Women for Women International, explores the often untapped and under-appreciated capacity of women around the world to cause major and lasting change for good.


Read Zainab's previous blog post here.

This week is International’s Women’s Day. A day for women to celebrate their womanhood regardless of their motherhood, their marriage-hood or any other kind of hood… In countries like Bosnia and Russia, flowers fill the streets of every corner and every man and boy buys a flower for every woman and girl to celebrate them for being women.  I must admit, I love that concept more than just celebrating mothers on Mother’s Day. Though I am in awe of mothers’ courage and beauty and very much believe we need to dedicate every kind of celebration to show the much needed respect and love of mothers, I just don’t believe that we should limit women’s celebration only to their motherhood and have our motherhood as the primary defining role.

But this is not about Mother’s Day verses women’s day verses girls’ day or any other day.  This is about the need for women to stand up together in this time more than any other time.  This is about the need to create a global women’s movement whereby we connect the dots of discrimination between the glass ceiling in the corporate world and the lack of representation of women in peace negotiation and between the domestic violence and rape in the Western world with the rape of women in war zones.  Women may look different all over the world.  Some with their suites and others with their batik fabrics or saris, some with hair covered and some with all kinds of hair dos and hair colors.  But all women face the central point of discrimination albeit the extremity of which may be different from Michigan to Kigali and from Manchester to Kabul. 

The past 100 years, women accomplished a lot through national women’s movements that aimed and succeeded at getting legal protection for women and access to resources and freedom of mobility.  We have moved from a time where women in the US could not apply for credit card without her husband’s signature to a time where women are the owners of their businesses.  And we have also moved from a time where Afghan women were walking the streets without headscarf and going to movie theaters to their absolute inability to leave the house without a headscarf in Kabul today.   When it comes to war, there is nothing to celebrate.  Women continue to be the main target for violence during war from the rape of 900,000 German women in World War II to the rape of 500,000 of Rwandese women in 1994 to today’s rape of hundreds of thousands of Congolese women.

Women have accomplished a lot in terms of legal reforms and protections among other accomplishments, and, there is much more yet to be accomplished. There is no other time than this time to move and to act and evolve our national women’s movement to a global women’s movement that connects the dots of our marginalization together and understanding that what happened to a rape victim in Congo can directly impact another woman in Pakistan or France. 

To do that we need to first create a public outrage that violence against women, something that has been tolerated for so long, can no longer be tolerated.  The world has been numb to violence against women.  We have not been outrage when we hear the numbers.  I often wonder what will happen if we say hundreds of thousands of men are getting raped in Congo today.  Will there be outrage?

We need to hold leaders accountable for full inclusion of women in all decision making tables, from the board room to peace negotiation and from the editorial board of a news agency to the cabinet positions of a country.  Without women’s full inclusion at the decision making table, we cannot have any healthy decision making table that is good for men and women alike.  It is the diversity of views that stems from different experiences and different backgrounds that lead to healthy decision making and not the unified experiences and unified views.  Working in wars, I know for a fact that we only think of war in terms of a front line perspective and rarely do we think of it in terms of a backline perspective that is usually led by women who are keeping life going in the midst of war and who have to handle the bulk of what it means to build peace.  Yet their voices are rarely included at the decision making tables. 

Last but not least, women need to be united.  We need to ROAR together.  We need to support each other from those who are demanding immediate ends to wars in Congo and Afghanistan to those demanding immediate end of exclusion at the decision making table.  This week, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, Women for Women International has called for women to meet on bridges to echo the plight of women in war zones and their demands for peace and immediate ending to the wars in their countries.  Women in Rwanda and Congo have met on a bridge where they tied their fabrics together and articulated their images of peace and women in Kosovo, United Kingdom, US, Bosnia, and Afghanistan are among women meeting in more than 100 cities worldwide to echo one voice for women’s demands for peace.  Thousands of women joined from Annie Lennox, Sarah Brown, Zain Verjee, Naomi Campbell, Mary Robinson to Hamide Latifee in Kosovo, Seida Saric in Bosnia, Christine Karumba in Congo and Berra Kabrugena in Rwanda.

As the butterfly effect shows us, let us flap our wings together so we may feel the effect in all of our lives no matter where we are in the world.  It is time for women to act and to create a new wave of yet another flip of the wings, a wave that can hopefully lead us to a better, more peaceful and more stable future.  Join Women.  Join us.  Join me on a bridge.
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