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Women around world demanding rights

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Mar 12, 2013 - 10:11 AM |
Journalist and author Sally Armstrong will speak at Laurentian University's Fraser Auditorium March 14. Supplied photo.

Journalist and author Sally Armstrong will speak at Laurentian University's Fraser Auditorium March 14. Supplied photo.

Journalist, author set to speak in Sudbury

Everywhere veteran journalist and author Sally Armstrong looks in the world, she sees women standing up for their rights.

In Kenya, 160 girls between the ages of three and 17 are suing their government for failing to protect them from rape.

In Senegal, women are putting a stop to customs which have led to female genital mutilation and girls being married off as young as age nine or 10.

In Afghanistan, young women are turning their backs on religious fundamentalism, and demanding the right to live their lives freely.

“Things are happening today that would never happen before,” Armstrong said. “I always hoped this would happen. I didn't believe it would happen when I was still on the job, but it has.”

She can't say for certain why this shift has happened — perhaps it's the fact that more women are educated worldwide than ever before, or maybe it's the pervasive nature of social media.

“I think the worst day that ever dawned for misogynists and extremists and fundamentalists was the day women all got online together, because now they're trading stories,” Armstrong said.

As she began to see women “rising up all over the world,” she realized she needed to write a book about the phenomenon.

The result is Ascent of Women, a book featuring the stories of women and girls around the world who are making a difference.

Armstrong will be speaking about the book at Laurentian University's Fraser Auditorium starting at 7:30 p.m. March 14 as part of the 18th annual Celebrate Women event.

The yearly event, put on by the Sudbury chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, YWCA Sudbury and the Women's Legal Education and Advocacy Fund (LEAF), features presentations from female Canadian authors.

The proceeds support the work of all three organizations.

Beyond Ascent of Women, Armstrong is also the author of Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan, Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: the Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan's Women, and The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor.

She first started writing about how conflict affects women and girls in 1988, as the editor of Homemaker's Magazine.

Armstrong, who now reports for the CBC and Maclean's magazine, has spent many years writing about Afghanistan, and was one of the only journalists to travel to the country when the Taliban were in power between 1996 and 2001.

She's earned many awards for her work, is the recipient of six honorary doctorate degrees, is the Member of the Order of Canada, and belonged to a U.N. group called the International Women's Commission.

I think the worst day that ever dawned for misogynists and extremists and fundamentalists was the day women all got online together...

Sally Armstrong,
author of Ascent of Women

Ascent of Women is dedicated to 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, along with all those who further education around the world.

Yousafzai, known for her efforts to promote girls' education, survived a Taliban assassination attempt last year. Her story caused an international outcry. She's since been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

But just a few years ago, Yousafzai's story would never have gotten beyond her home country, Armstrong said.

“People would have said 'She's only a girl. Who cares?'” she said. “Those who could speak about it would have said 'Well, we told her not to go to school. What did she go to school for?'

“But the opposite happened. The word got out, and it bounced around the world. It was on the front page of every paper.”

Yousafzai isn't the only remarkable young girl highlighted in Ascent of Women. Armstrong also tells the story of 15-year-old Alaina Podmorow of British Columbia.

In 2006, when she was just nine years old, Podmorow heard Armstrong speak about the conditions in Afghanistan, and was inspired to start an organization called Little Women 4 Little Women in Afghanistan.

“In question period, she stood up, waving her little, tiny, nine-year-old hand,” Armstrong said. “She said with all the indignation a nine-year-old can raise 'Those girls you're talking about are my age. This has to stop.”

While it's easy to highlight restrictions to women's rights in a troubled country such as Afghanistan, Armstrong points out that Canada isn't perfect either.

In the polygamist community Bountiful, British Columbia, there's been reports of underage girls being married to much older men, but politicians don't seem to deal with the issue, she said.

Then there's the case of hundreds of Aboriginal women who have either gone missing or have been murdered, something Armstrong calls a “black eye” on the country.

This only shows that even in a country like Canada, women have to be “vigilant” to ensure their rights are being protected “or else someone will claw it back from you,” she said.

Beyond women's own efforts to take back their own rights, Armstrong sees hope in the fact that experts are realizing that when women are oppressed, it's bad for everyone.

One study has shown that if women in Africa and Asia were given access to good-quality seeds, tools and fertilizer — something they generally lack — they could feed 157 million people.

“They found out the world simply cannot afford to oppress half the world's population,” she said. “They have masses of proof for this — that things go better when women are treated fairly.”

Tickets to the Celebrate Women event, which cost $10 each, are available at Black Cat, Gloria's Restaurant, Chapters, the Laurentian University bookstore and at the door.

For a chance to win a copy of Armstrong's book, as well as three tickets to the event, visit Northern Life's Facebook page at

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Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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