‘We are at a turning point’: Veteran human rights journalist says now is finally a hopeful time

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An award-winning Canadian war correspondent says she believes the time for social change is finally here.

“I honestly, honestly think this is it. We are at a turning point,” Sally Armstrong said during an interview with Global News.

Long before most Westerners had heard of the Taliban or could even find Afghanistan on a map, Armstrong worked to bring the terrible reality of women and girls there to the world. She has sat face-to-face with ISIS fighters, reported on genocide against the Yazidis and sex slavery targeting teenage girls, and been dubbed the war correspondent for the world’s women.

READ MORE: As ISIS loses fighters and territory, propaganda video depicts women on the front lines 

And she believes inequalities in the world are finally changing for the better.

“I could tell everywhere I went, the earth was shifting under the status of women.

“Now, we’re not at the finish line, not even in Canada, not even close. But it’s changing — women are speaking out.”

Armstrong didn’t set out to be a war correspondent.

During the Bosnian War of the early 90s, she was on assignment in Sarajevo. When she learned of rape camps affecting 20,000 women, she knew the story needed to get out faster than magazine publishing would allow.

“I gathered all this information, I brought it home and gave it to a news agency in Canada and said, ‘Give this to a reporter. This is huge.’”

WATCH: Veteran Canadian reporter on how inaction led to decades of human rights reporting and activism



She waited seven weeks. When nothing appeared, she called back.

“He said, ‘Oh you know, I got busy. I forgot.’

“I said, ‘20,000 women were gang-raped. Some of them eight years old, some of them 80 years old. And you forgot?’ And he said, ‘Oh Sally, you’re always going on and on about the women.’

“I thought: if no one’s going to do these stories, they are going to be my stories.”

And she’s been doing it ever since.

READ MORE: Myanmar military’s rape of Rohingya women is sweeping and methodical 

Just a day after arriving home from South Sudan with Journalists for Human Rights, Armstrong sat down with Global News to discuss her work and what’s different about this time in history.

The award-winning journalist and author notes that thanks to the ability to communicate online, women are reaching out to each other and altering their futures.

“When you have that opportunity, you find out other people don’t live like this. Why do we live like this? And I believe that’s the first step for change.”

WATCH: Award-winning Canadian war correspondent on why she believes this is – finally – a time of social change



She says her book, Ascent of Women – a New Age is Dawning for Every Mother’s Daughter, predicted the Me Too campaign and the shift toward greater equality.

“The power brokers claim because women are now at the table, they can alter intractable files, like poverty, like conflict — the issues that have been going on for centuries that we haven’t been able to address.”

Armstrong was recently promoted to an Officer of the Order of Canada.

READ MORE: Why legal experts say #MeToo is more than just a movement 

She says, when it comes to action against injustice, women and men must stand together.

“We will never get to the finish line until we decide we’re going to walk with men. And the men have to hear that message loud and clear.”

“The men have to join us at the barricades and then I think we’ll see tremendous change and we’ll see it fast.”

Armstrong was in Edmonton to give a lecture at the University of Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Leadership College.

She has already seen — and ignited — change in a career that has seen Amnesty International honour her four times with its Canada Media Award. Her early postings were at Canadian Living and Homemakers magazines, publications not initially known for human rights work. But she says alongside recipes and beauty features, the readership wanted to be informed and that drove her reporting.

WATCH: How the readers of 1990s women’s magazines pushed Canadian journalist Sally Armstrong to dig deeper on human rights atrocities



“We had these stories that were very important to our readers and they drove me,” she said.

“Every time we did a hard-hitting story, the mail came in by the bag load. They wanted more.

“You know, if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t feel any responsibility to fixing it, changing it, being part of it.

“But once you know, once you see the all-news networks in somebody’s village where there is ethnic cleansing or raping women, you do have a feeling of: what can I do about this? How am I involved somehow as a human being?”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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