Canadian women’s rights activist Sally Armstrong was promoted to officer of the Order of Canada for her groundbreaking work in highlighting human rights and the struggles of women in the world’s conflict zones. From Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, and Bosnia, to the Middle East and Afghanistan, Armstrong has covered stories about women and girls in zones of conflict all over the globe. She has spoken to women and girls – traversing many countries and breaking language barriers – to share their stories and make the public aware of issues that have gone by the wayside.
Aside from being an accomplished journalist and writer, Sally Armstrong is a three-time winner of the Amnesty International Canada Media Award and holds numerous honorary degrees, including an honorary doctorate from Carleton University.
“Sally Armstrong is a woman for all seasons, bringing the reality of the suffering of women wherever there is conflict.” describes Clare Beckton, executive director of the Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership at Carleton University.
Upon returning from Sarajevo, the historic capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1993, Armstrong passionately wrote an article about rape camps, which affected over 20,000 women during the Bosnian war. Though Canadian newspapers rejected her story due to lack of proximity and urgency, Armstrong refused to let the issue be ignored. Due to her status as editor in chief, she was finally able to receive publication of her story in Homemaker Magazine – a key endorsement that brought her story much critical acclaim.
Armstrong was also the first journalist to bring the story of the women of Afghanistan to the world. Her best-selling book, Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan, which was published in 2002, documents her investigation – which started in 1997 – and sheds light on the physical and emotional barbarity of the Taliban’s institutionalization of misogyny.
In her book, Sally Armstrong introduces several women, including the deputy prime minister of Afghanistan, Dr. Sima Samar, who describes the living hell brought upon by Taliban’s hateful edicts as well as a so-called quiet rebellion, which opened “secret schools” for 3,000 girls as well as health clinics for those who have been abused.
According to Aya Tsintziras of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, “Every story she writes has two layers: the story, and the story about the story. Often the backstory shows her passion and determination to write, a battle that parallels the ones her sources must endure: while these women and children fight for their lives and for control over their bodies, she fights to tell their stories.”
Children who are now adults recently reached out to Armstrong on social media, quoting memories of “darkness, explosions, fear and games,” and thanking her for her help and guidance during the darkest parts of their lives. Additionally, a group called Young Women for Change in Afghanistan is using Facebook in an attempt to improve the way men treat women in that country.
Armstrong will have her latest stories covering the current situation in Afghanistan published in a near-future edition of the Toronto Star. Until then and after, Sally Armstrong will continue to shine a light on women’s experiences in the most testing parts of the world and continue to challenge readers to view the world from a different lens and walk in a different pair of shoes.
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