150+ Canadians Day 48: Sally Armstrong

Image: Screen capture from Sally’s interview with Peter Mansbridge One on One from CBC. View the video here.

Sally Armstrong contributes to peace through her work as a journalist and human/women’s rights advocate. #Canada150

Armstrong is an award winning author, journalist and human rights activist, a three-time winner of the Amnesty International Canada media award and the holder of numerous honorary degrees.  She also is a member of the Order of Canada. Armstrong was the first journalist to bring the story of the women of Afghanistan to the world and was relentless when it came to exposing the abuse of women whether on an American university campus or a village in a war zone.

Michele Landsberg, author of Writing the Revolution describes her this way:  “Striding into Taliban-held Afghanistan with a chador over her six-foot frame, playing high-fives with a traumatized child rape survivor in the Congolese jungle, marching with the defiant grandmothers in Swaziland, she explores the darkest reaches of women’s experience and brings back astonishing news of hope, challenge and change. From Tahrir Square to LA, Armstrong discovers that the sisters are doing it for themselves—and revolutionizing the world.”

In 2011, for example, Armstrong travelled 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 2010 Kenyan constitution’s promise of greater equality for women and girls. First, Armstrong spoke to 11-year-old Emily, who told her about being raped by her own grandfather; then to Charity, who was 11, and her sister Susan, who was six. For these latter two, it was their father.

“When I leave these places, their stories play on the back of my eyelids. I wonder how they’re doing. Often with my stories I get to go back and see them again.” She explains the issues in her powerful but compact style: Emily’s grandfather raped her believing it would cure him of HIV/AIDS. “It made me sad, but more than that, it made me enraged.”

That anger over injustice has propelled Armstrong’s decades-spanning career sharing the tragic and hopeful stories of women in conflict zones.  Often the backstory shows her passion and determination to write, a battle that parallels the ones her sources must endure: while these women fight for their lives and for control over their bodies, she continues to fight to tell their stories wherever she can.


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