Inspired by Sally Armstrong

Yesterday afternoon, I attended “International Women’s Day with Sally Armstrong” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library.

This Premiere 85 Queen Event was well-attended by fans (predominantly women) of the award-winning author, journalist, activist, and 2019 Massey Lecturer. Sally holds ten honorary degrees and is a member of the Order of Canada.

In an armchair conversation with Eva Salinas, editor and journalism instructor at Mohawk College, Sally shared anecdotes and insights from her extraordinary journey.

L-R: Eva Salinas, Sally Armstrong

Sally began with the compelling backstory behind the publication of “Eva: Witness for Women” in the Summer 1993 edition of Homemaker’s Magazine.

In 1992, Sally was sent to Sarajevo to write a story about the effects on war on children. While there, she heard rumors about rape camps. She gathered all the facts and returned to Toronto. Determined to get the story out faster than her magazine deadline would permit, Sally passed on the information to a male news editor and waited for the byline to appear. He ignored it.

Seven weeks later, a four-line blurb about gang rape in the Balkans appeared in Newsweek.

Sally and her team at Homemaker’s Magazine decided to do the story. Sally flew back to the region and interviewed Eva Penavic, one of thousands of females who had been brutally gang-raped during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Over the past two decades, Sally has covered stories in conflict zones all over the world. Her eyewitness reports have earned her international acclaim and the Amnesty International Media Award four times over.

While we are not at the finish line, there have been positive changes with respect to gender equality and other human rights issues.

In the past, we relied on public and political will to enact changes (new laws, more shelters, etc.). In recent years, personal will has started to overtake public will. Most of this personal will is coming from young women such as Greta Thunberg (Swedish environmental activist on climate change) and Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist for female education).

Another example… In 2011, Sally traveled to Kenya to interview 160 child rape victims, some as young as three, who were suing the government for not protecting them and for failing to uphold the Kenyan constitution’s promise of greater equality for girls and women. In 2013, the High Court ruled in the girls’ favor, ordering the Police Service to conduct prompt and effective investigations into each of the girls’ cases and to comply with human rights standards in all cases of defilement.

Asked how she moves beyond difficult stories, Sally responded: “When I leave these places, their stories play on the back of my eyelids.” Often, she gets to return to the conflict zones and touch base with the women.

Quotable quotes from Sally Armstrong

“It’s not because we know more or we know better. It’s because we’re different. If we’re both at the table, we learn more.”

“We will be happier, healthier, and richer when we have equality.”

“Until you have justice, you can’t move forward.”

“Men need to stand up and say to other men: ‘What you are doing is not okay with me.’
And to women: ‘I’ll walk with you.’”

Sally’s books

Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan
The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor
Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women
Ascent of Women: A New Age is Dawning for Every Mother’s Daughter
Power Shift: The Longest Revolution

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