Canadian, Sally Armstrong, is an Amnesty International award winner, a member of the Order of Canada, documentary filmmaker, teacher, author, human rights activist and a contributing editor of MacLean’s magazine. For the past 12 years, she has reported on women’s and children’s issues in Afghanistan and has just completed her second book,” Bitter Roots Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women.”
In a recent interview, Armstrong discusses how she came to cover the Afghan story, challenges in reporting from dangerous areas, the progress being made by Afghanistan women and a charitable grass roots program in Canada to raise funds for educational programs.
Having covered stories zones of conflict from a women and children’s point of view in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda, she began covering the Afghanistan scene the year after the Taliban took over in 1996. “Women couldn’t go to work and kids couldn’t go to school. I wondered how they were coping and how the Taliban was getting away with it under the nose of the International community,” Armstrong said. The Afghan story generated strong reader interest which has resulted in ongoing coverage.
After 9/11, Armstrong continued reporting on women’s and children’s issues in Afghanistan which lead to her first book on the subject,” Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan” and the producing of two documentaries “They Fell From the Sky”, and “The Daughters of Afghanistan.”
It’s hard to fathom what it would be like to be in Afghanistan, let alone reporting stories that the Taliban don’t want to get out. Having once been held by the Taliban for over 24 hrs, she shared her thoughts how best to be prepared.” The most important thing is do your homework, equip yourself with the facts about their history, culture and religion. If you’re lucky, you’ll find excellent contacts who will fill you in on the ‘back’ story. It is dangerous and you have to rely on your wits and experience. The bottom line is you have to get the story.”
While there is a long way to go, according to Armstrong, there has been progress. “In Afghanistan, a women’s movement has begun, similar to the North American Women’s movement of the 60’s. The similarity is the demand for change. If you want change, you need to do it yourself. The Afghan women are working tenaciously, dangerously and cleverly to help change the status quo in that country”, Armstrong stated.
Canada has been a significant contributor in Afghanistan with respect to the Military involvement, infrastructure funding as well as a donations made through a charitable grass roots project called Breaking Bread for Women. This project was founded by Susan Bellan from Toronto and helps support much needed education projects for Afghan women and children. Funds are raised through Pot Luck dinners. As Host you are asked to invite your friends to your home, request that they share a food dish and ask each participant to donate funds towards education in Afghanistan. It only takes $750 to pay the salary of a teacher for one year in Afghanistan. This is important as today, an estimated 90% of Afghan women are illiterate.
Next on the agenda for Armstrong, is a trip to Congo and a follow up documentary that should be available next year based on her latest book “Bitter Roots Tender Shoots”. A courageous Canadian woman with many more stories to be told.
Bitter Roots Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women can be purchased at:Amazon Canada
Website for Breaking Bread for Women
Breaking Bread for Women