By Madeleine White, Managing Editor of NINA.
Suaad Allami, a Vital Voice of Leadership for Iraq and an Inspiration for Women Everywhere
It is interesting when you interview people. Sometimes you get to meet them physically, sometimes you get to speak by skype or by phone, other times answers are returned by Email. Each interview leaves an imprint of some kind.
As I sit and write this today I am overwhelmed by the sense of needing to convey in a thousand words or so the sheer force of personality, drive and compassion that has led to Suaad Allami, a leading Iraqi human rights lawyer to receive the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards Fern Holland Award in Washington last month.
She was also one of just eight women globally to receive the Women of Courage Award from Hillary Clinton and Michele Obama in 2009. Still a practicing lawyer, Suaad founded Women for Progress in 2007 a “one-stop shop” for everything from legislative advocacy, vocational training, and domestic violence counselling to medical exams and literacy education and even child care and exercise opportunities.
She is known for her unwavering resolve to reintegrate women into Iraqi society and to engage them fully in reconstructing a stronger nation and of course I will tell you about this… but I also want to convey the Suaad that jumped out at me over our skype call. This was the Suaad Allami who was born and stayed in Sadr City, one of the poorest Baghdad suburbs. It was the woman shaped by the determination of illiterate parents to find her voice through education. It was the lawyer, who despite a ‘handicap’ of gender has risen to be one of Iraq’s great civil society leaders.
And there we have it, just there. The word I want to start with, that connects the themes and ideas that bind our discussion together. Leadership. We start with a bit of background.
“ You ask about my mother and her influence on me. As you know she was illiterate as indeed was my father. My mother though was very strong in her views about what this meant to her. She always told me not to be like a blind person. That’s what it meant to her to be uneducated. Both my parents were illiterate and both were determined my three sisters and I should have a good education.
As I got older I recognised that even though my parents were blind in one way, their values were incredibly strong. These values and morals underpinned our education, because they gave us the understanding of what vision means. Their desire to help us ‘see’ everything, contextualised our education in a way that inspired greater depth. Their ambition for us reached beyond the academic into the human. This shaped my learning and my work.”