Journalist, human rights activist, and author Sally Armstrong delivered the second talk of this year’s President’s Speaker Series to a crowded auditorium.
She was first chosen to speak at the Davidson Lecture by the Canadian Studies Department for this year. As 2013-14 is the Year of Global Engagement at Mount Allison University, her activism and research focus coincided well with the theme of the Speakers Series. The event was organized collaboratively by Mt. A’s Canadian Studies Department and the President’s Speaker Series committee; it also served as the Davidson Lecture.
Armstrong spoke on Tuesday, Oct. 29 in the Crabtree auditorium to a full house. Her talk focused on the experience of women in conflict zones. She used examples from her time in Bosnia, Congo, Kenya, Afghanistan, and Egypt to highlight the oppression and subjugation of women in these countries.
According to Frank Strain, the chair of the President’s Speaker Series committee, “Sally Armstrong was just an obvious choice, not just because of her engagement but also because she is a Canadian, she brings a Canadian angle to engagement [with international issues].”
One of Armstrong’s main arguments was that the age of electronic media, and Facebook specifically, have helped the cause of women. She mentioned how women’s groups like “Women Living Under Muslim Laws”, “Young Women for Change”, LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund) had all formed a vast online presence and were helping educate and liberate women all over the world.
“The pendulum is surging towards emancipation away from oppression,” she said.
Armstrong used personal anecdotes from her years of activism to convey her message. She mentioned the story of Emily, an eleven-year-old Kenyan girl she met, who was raped by her own grandfather because he thought his HIV could be cured by sleeping with a young girl. Misinformation, lack of education, and opportunistic actions by violent men has resulted in a large majority of women in conflict zones being raped or assaulted.
On a more positive note, Armstrong narrated the story of Anita Haidary, who started the Young Women for Change organization in Kabul. Despite threats from the Taliban, this organization has gained support from men and women and has been campaigning for gender equality and the eradication of street harassment against women.
Sydney Logan, president of Mt. A’s “Because I am a Girl” club said, “her talk epitomized the reasons why I decided to start Because I am a Girl [at Mt. A]. I liked the way she talked about how important it is to get boys and men on board as well in order to achieve equality.”
Armstrong wrapped up her talk by emphasizing that it was not a conflict of men against women or, West against the East, but rather a fight for equal human rights.