226: The Self-Empowered Woman: Zainab Bangura

Dear Followers:

Today I would like to introduce you to an amazing woman who works at the United Nations as part of the effort to help abused women around the world. When Zainab Bangura was a little girl in Sierra Leone, her father wanted to marry her off when she was only twelve years old. Because her mother refused to agree, her father walked out on the family. As a result, her mother supported herself and her daughter by selling whatever she could in the market place. She was determined that Zainab would get a good education.

Today, at age 55, she is the UN Secretary General Special Envoy for Sexual Violence in areas of violence. She documents abuses against women, which is often called “the war within the wars for powers and riches.” For example, in Syria, she heard about girls who had been given up by their parents to Jihadists who then raped and enslaved them. And at a woman’s shelter in Jordan she learned about one young Syrian girl who had been “forced to marry” 15 different men within the course of a single year.

According to Ms. Bangura’s latest report, there are currently 45 armed groups (both government forces and rebels) around the world that use sexual violence as a weapon. Sadly, she learned that that in wartime gunmen alone are not the only threat that women face. Refugees are also at a high risk from domestic violence at home and from sexual harassment when they step outdoors.

Bangura’s activism began when her mother died, and—because of Sierra Leone’s customs—she was not able to make funeral arrangements simply because she was “an unmarried woman.” So she married the man who was her sweetheart at the time, and they have been together for the past 22 years. But it was the unfair funeral situation that caused her to switch from a safe job in the insurance field to her work organizing women to fight for their rights.

She has held her special position at the United Nations since 2012, and tackles a range of gender-based issues. In many countries in the Middle East, mothers cannot pass on their citizenship to their children. So any child born of rape is automatically stateless. These are the types of sticky issues that Ms. Bangura works diligently to solve because she wants to a) bring the world’s attention to the plight of endangered women, and b) force world leaders to accept responsibility for protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

In other words, this is an Self-Empowered Woman who is one of today’s real-life heroes.




About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.