Sally Armstrong on the Ascent of Women

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First aired on The Current (05/03/13)

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The headlines are appalling: gang rapes in India, girls denied the right to go to school in Pakistan, the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women in Canada. There is no shortage of evidence that women around the world are still subjected to atrocious abuse and second-class citizenship, even in this day and age. But journalist and human rights activist Sally Armstrong says there is reason for hope. In her new book, Ascent of Women, she documents a long list of examples of women around the world who are working together like never before in the fight for equality between the sexes -- and winning. Armstrong spoke with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti earlier this week.

Armstrong has seen first-hand some of the worst abuses against women. She was the first to report on the plight of women under the Taliban to Canadians, and she faced initial disinterest when she tried to report on Serbian rape camps. But Armstrong now focuses on the positive changes, and has borne witness to some incredible stories.

One of the amazing people that Armstrong documents in her book is a 10-year-old girl in Senegal named Kadia. "[She] is a great example of the tipping point women and girls are reaching right now," said Armstrong. "Here's a little kid sitting in her classroom when her uncle marches in and yanks her out of class and hauls her off to the mosque because she is to be married to an older man...her school days are over, in fact Kadia kind of feels like her life is over. For centuries, that would have been the end of that story. But something happened: Kadia's classmates got up, marched out of the class, went to the village chief's office and said 'this has to stop.'"

The difference was this: Kadia's classmates had an education and learned that child marriage, genital mutilation and other things that their classmates were being exposed to were wrong, and they were finally speaking out.

Armstrong said that she's always been an "equality seeker," but this wasn't necessarily the career that she set out to have. "I think the biggest [turning point] for me was when I did a story on the gang-raping of women in the Balkans. I didn't set out to do this story. I was in the magazine business, I could rush this news story to press in about three months." But the story was horrifying and important and Armstrong spent several months gathering evidence and interviews. "I brought it back and gave it to a big news agency -- and they never used it," she said. It was then that she realized that she needed to tell the stories that no one else wanted -- which were all too frequently stories about women suffering.

Armstrong has spent the past 25 years reporting on women in zones of conflict. "I hardly ever have a good news story to tell," she said. "In one area after another I now have a better news story to tell." The book collects and celebrates these "better" news stories, demonstrating that there is indeed hope for the future.