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Discussion with Sally Armstrong and CFUW Oakville

Sally Armstrong, Journalist and Human Rights Activist

On September 28, Sally Armstrong spoke to the CFUW Oakville Bloomsbury 1 Interest Group about her recent journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and her observations and hopes for the place of women and children in today’s world.  She believes that women’s issues are coming into a bright, new light, from the zones of conflicts to the United Nations to the corporate world; women are the way forward and change is on its way.

She began her talk by reflecting on her first experiences in Sarajevo during the conflict there in 1992.  At that time, the rape camps and the killing of children were not looked on as a casualty of war but as punishment for women, and the news of the atrocities were not covered by the media and therefore no one knew what was happening to the most vulnerable. Most of the world looked the other way, and at the end of the conflict, women were not invited to the peace table.  One of the negotiators stated that women would not be included because “We are discussing serious matters”.

Since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 1999, women have bravely continued to fight for their rights, and when President Karzai tried the pass the law regarding Sharia’h, Afghan women marched in Kabul and the law was withdrawn.  The situation now seems to be at “the tipping point” moving in favour of women and she is hopeful that the women will be brought to the peace table in efforts to end the conflict in their country.  Afghan women have learned that the way out for them to the freedom to which they are entitled is through empowerment, and the power brokers are beginning to realize that bringing women to the table is critical to the economic health of the country and all its citizens.

Sally travelled to Congo this past summer because she had learned of the horrific acts of depravity and barbarism there – the mass raping by seven rogue militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces that forces the women to take their children and hide in the forests, because the men have been driven away.  She met with some of these women in the forests to listen to their stories and bring back a message to our world.  Five million are dead in this conflict and most of the world again is looking the other way.  The women of Congo have formed a campaign called Silence is Violence because they know that what has happened to them and what is still happening must be acknowledged and stopped.

The International Women’s Commission (IWC) for a just and sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace has been established and is made up of 20 Palestinian women, 20 Israeli women, and 10 international women.  The IWC begins meeting in Jericho, Israel, in October 2010, and Sally Armstrong is the only Canadian appointed to the Commission. She is hopeful that this group of women will be able to come up with solutions for this long-standing problem that has not been solved by any previous meetings and representatives, no matter how well-intentioned.  The Honorary Chairs are Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Ines Alberdi of UNIFEM is the Chair of the meetings.

In conclusion, she reminded us of the changes that Canadian women have made in the laws of Canada which have changed our own culture with regard to women, reminding us of the days not-so-long ago when we had to promise to “obey” when we married, when we needed our husband’s signature to have a hospital procedure, when we could not open our own bank accounts, and when the laws on sexual assault looked the other way.  She reminded us that it requires at least 30% of women in government to change a culture and noted that even here at home, we have not quite reached that percentage in Parliament.

It was most encouraging to listen to Sally Armstrong who has a great deal of experience in war torn areas of the world and the extreme difficulties faced by women and children. Despite what she has witnessed she finds hope in the resistance and spirit of women across the world and believes that change is on the way.

Note:  CFUW and its sister national affiliates in IFUW continue to work vigorously for the ratification of UN Resolutions 1326 and 1820.

For more information on the International Women’s Commission, “goggle” IWC – its website is being developed as the meetings begin.

Roberta A. Brooks
CFUW Oakville
IFUW Assistant Treasurer/
Convener, IFUW Finance Committee

October 14, 2010