Giving women a voice

Giving women a voice

Arab woman launches new talk show with Oprah Winfrey as the first guest

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Nicolla Hewitt
Saudi Gazette

Not many people can say they are friends with Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie and Donna Karan. Nor can they say they have helped over 400,000 women in war-torn countries from Afghanistan and Iraq to Rwanda and Congo, and been profiled by Caroline Kennedy in Time Magazine, and honored at the White House for the commitment to help  women. If that wasn’t enough, this trailblazing person is now launching a second career as a talk show host on a new program which launches in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East on Saturday (Oct. 24). That person is Iraqi born Zainab Salbi who, Time magazine said, “gives women a voice.”

That’s exactly what Miss Zainab intends to do with her show Nida’a making its debut on OSN, Saturday. Nida’a — which means — “The Calling of Women,” combines heartfelt stories with funny, celebrity-oriented, and inspirational stories. But it also digs a little deeper too, as the show explores social, political, and cultural issues. What this show unique and different is many of these stories are seen and experienced from people who are dealing with these issues first hand. Nida’a also sets out to celebrate the dreams and achievements of Arab women across the world with powerful heartfelt stories.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette from New York where she was on a press tour, Nida’a host Zainab Salbi said, “I think we need so many more shows to acknowledge Arab women and all their stories and all their contributions. We equally need to talk about the possibilities of change and development within our own culture and traditions. Many women are doing that but they are yet to be acknowledged fully.”

Zainab has Oprah, one of the most famous women in the world as her first guest. Oprah gives “Nida’a” a rare interview in the Middle East about life, faith and coming to terms with abuse as a child. Also appearing on the first show is the Saudi comedy sensation who has never revealed her true identity.

Nida’a has a lot of star power behind it. Zainab’s work as a humanitarian caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey, who invited Zainab on her show 10 times.

When asked about Oprah’s support, Zainab told Saudi Gazette: “I am grateful. I am grateful. She has been a blessing in my life from the days she featured me when I was running Women for Women International to the gift of giving me the first interview at The Nida’a Show.  She is a great teacher and a friend and I am blessed with this gift of her support.”

So it should come as no surprise Zainab’s executive producer at Nida’a and three other top producers all worked at Oprah’s show too.

It was over 20 years ago that Zainab decided to devote her life to helping women in war-torn countries. As founder of Washington-based “Women for Women International,” Miss Salbi helped the organization grow from helping 30 women when it started, to helping over 400,000 women in 8 conflict areas. The private funding of supporters lead to a distribution of more than $100 million in aid and loans, which in turn impacted more than 1.7 million family members.

Zainab appears frequently in media in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. In 2010, President Clinton nominated her as one of the 21st century heroes as featured by Harper’s Bazaar. In 2011 Newsweek and The Guardian identified her in the Top 100 list of Most Influential Women. Most recently, Zainab was identified by Fortune Magazine as one of the Most Influential Women on Twitter in 2014. She also helped produce “In the Land of  Blood and Honey”  about the rape of women in Bosnia with Oscar winning actress Angelina Jolie who said this of Zainab, “I think she’s extraordinary. These issues are so sensitive and so it’s so important to us that women like her who know these issues and work.”

What’s nice for viewers watching in the Kingdom, is just how many women from Saudi Arabia are featured on Nida’a. They include the first Saudi woman to scale Everest — Raha Moharrak — sharing her story of pursuing her dream. Saudi fashion designer Haya Awad, swings by the Nida’a studio with her designs in Saudi fashion designer, as does fellow designer Razan Alazzouni. Another woman from the Kingdom who appears on an upcoming episode of Nida’a is actress Ahd Kamel who talks about teaching yoga, and why she enjoys doing so.

Giving Saudi women a voice on the Nida’a show was very important to Zainab. In her interview with the Saudi Gazette she said, “Many in the region and around the world have various stereotypes of Saudi women, and part of my goal at The Nida’a Show is to challenge all stereotypes not in a paternalistic way but in a way that is truthful and loving by having real heartfelt discussion with Saudi women and show all their beautiful voices and contributions.’

The Nida’a team has also found inspiring stories that we may not have heard about. For instance, the inspiring story of Solar Mama, the woman who left her Bedouin village to achieve her dream of becoming a solar engineer; Arab Idol and superstar, Mohammed Assaf, comes to the Nida’a studio for music and conversation and in a highly moving episode of Nida’a, brave Iraqi young women break their silence after their traumatic experiences when held captive in the Daesh (the so-called IS) controlled territories.

Nida’a is the first international talk show for American and European audiences being shown on OSN and TLC. Given TLC is the world’s #1 Women’s Pay TV brand with almost 400 million global subscribers, and other guests include Bill Clinton, Queen Rania of Jordan, and James Bond actor Daniel Craig, it would seem “Nida’a” is a show not to be missed.

Nida’a airs on the OSN network Saturdays at 2150 KSA time. One can follow their latest show listings and other fun facts about their show on Twitter @NidaaShow.

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