Fighting for Women's Equality

Celebrating ERA Board Member Ghada Saliba-Malouf & All Immigrant Women on International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017 | by

Today’s International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the incredible achievements of women across the country and abroad. At Equal Rights Advocates, we are particularly proud of the many incredible women who we represent and who support our work.

This year, we draw inspiration from our outgoing board member (and former Board Chair) Ghada Saliba-Malouf, Senior VP and Managing Counsel at Wells Fargo. Ghada’s journey to the U.S., to the law, and to gender justice work is a testament to the strength of so many immigrant women. She will be honored as a Gender Justice Honoree at ERA’s 2017 Gala Luncheon on June 14, 2017 for her lifelong commitment to equality for women and girls.

Ghada first joined the ERA Board of Directors in 2011. She was drawn to ERA not just as a woman lawyer, but because of its significant legal and advocacy work on behalf of immigrant women and young girls. In the current environment with immigrant and refugee bans and hate crime on the rise, this advocacy has become even more vital.

“ERA has given immigrant women a voice they might not have otherwise had. An immigrant woman who is just trying to earn a living and suffers an extreme injustice at work might not always have access to legal services. The fact these women feel safe to approach ERA and seek our support is incredible to me. These women and the injustices they face would be forgotten without ERA lifting them up.”

For Ghada, this work is especially personal. At 14 years old, with a civil war raging in her home country of Lebanon, Ghada spent months applying for a student visa to continue her education in the United States. Even though her eldest sister was already in California,  where Ghada was accepted to attend high school, the weight of traveling alone and leaving her parents behind was enormous.

“Like most new immigrants, I had a very difficult time adjusting to my new home, missing my family and the life I knew. I also felt this tremendous sense of responsibility and pressure not to fail and squander the opportunity I had been given. Many think that people come to this country out of their own choice, but that’s not the case for many who are uprooted and pulled apart from their families because of war or other calamities. I didn’t see my parents for six years when I first moved to the U.S. and that was very difficult for me and them.”

After arriving in California, Ghada quickly learned that Arab-American voices, and particularly Arab-American women’s perspectives, were left out of our society and media. It was in high school that she found her voice to speak about her home and her experiences as an immigrant. Throughout college and law school – at UC Berkeley and Golden Gate University School of Law, respectively – Ghada became involved in international issues, met students from around the world, and knew she wanted to work on human rights and gender issues during her legal career. In 1995, Ghada began this work by serving on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and served as Chair of the commission from 1999-2003. She proudly represented the Arab-American community in an important role and advocated for their further representation in local government.

Ghada entered law at a time when women, and especially immigrant women, faced significant barriers. She joined Wells Fargo in 1999, where she currently practices and has become a leader in their many diversity initiatives.

“I have a strong interest in mentoring others because I remember the beginning of my professional life and how hard it was as a woman, and especially as an immigrant woman, in law. You can just imagine with my name and background how difficult it was to gain access to opportunities. Because of that, I now feel a tremendous responsibility to give back, mentor, and bring others along.”

Despite the many difficulties immigrants entering the U.S. today face, Ghada has a positive message. “To any young woman immigrating to the United States: Be proud of who you are. The experiences and perspectives you bring will enrich the environment and communities around you. Our American society has greatly benefitted since its founding from the contributions of immigrants, their hard work, and ingenuity. I have no doubt that the plurality and the diversity immigrants bring to our shores will continue to set us apart in human and economic terms in an increasingly connected global economy.”

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