Uprising: A New Age is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter
by Sally Armstrong



Thomas Dunne Books, imprint of St. Martin's Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-250-04528-7.
Reviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 04/27/2014

Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

Uprising is an invigorating, eye-opening, tragic yet inspiring look at the status of women in some of the most oppressive countries and cultures in the world. Author Sally Armstrong's premise is simple and compelling—that even in places where women's rights have been severely curtailed, where they have been subjected to violence, rape, genital mutilation, harassment and murder—a new age is dawning. Her 25 years of experience reporting on women's issues worldwide has given her a unique perspective and added strength to her claim. Not only have women gained rights to education and political and economic power, but international economists and world leaders are linking economic development, the end to military conflict, and improvements in health directly to a country's treatment of its women.

Economist Jeffery Sachs, Armstrong reports, has found a direct correlation between women's status and the economic security of a given nation. Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy, has asserted that "Countries which oppress their women are doomed to be failed states." Hilary Clinton has claimed that "In country after country we have seen women help push peace agreements to the finish line." With world leaders backing women's rights as they have never before, change, Armstrong believes, is at a tipping point.

"[N]ow the threads required for serious progress on human rights have started to weave themselves together into a tapestry of change. You want a better economy? Put women to work. Your health system is lagging? Improve maternal and infant health care. War is your problem? Bring women to the negotiating table. Is poverty stuck at unacceptable levels? Ask your women to make the budget." (p. 11)

Armstrong identifies two "unlikely factors" spurring this global women's movement: the rise of Islamism that is inspiring Middle Eastern and Asian women to protest the "extreme hijacking" of their religion, and the AIDS epidemic in which African women realized that without change in the attitudes of men toward women, whole villages would die out. Social media, blogging, and the internet are fueling the fire of this gentle but insistent revolution. Women are using these powerful tools to educate, to expose harassment, to shame those responsible, to announce protest actions and to tell their stories. They are fighting the dogma that has argued the oppression of women in some parts of the world that is cultural and therefore unchangeable. New strategies are being employed such as using nations' constitutions and new and existing laws on social justice to hold oppressors accountable and force governments to act.

Armstrong's book is densely packed, not only with facts, but with personal histories of women she has interviewed. The result is part textbook, part social commentary, and part women's history. Rather than a straightforward and chronological format, Armstrong uses a spiral structure, organizing chapters by broad subject matter: shame, oppression, cultural factors, poverty, etc. The result can be a bit dizzy and daunting when the same information is repeated in each new context. It isn't light reading. This book takes work, but it is worth the effort, and it has a good index which helps.

This is also not a book for the overly sensitive. Armstrong doesn't flinch in her reporting of the shocking details of girls and women gang-raped to death, specifics of genital mutilation so severe young women die in childbirth, girls pushed back into a burning building because they weren't wearing their headscarves, or stoned to death for adultery. Yet ultimately her message is one of optimism and hope. She ends her book with the inspiring story of Noorjahan Akbar, 21 and Anita Haidary, just 19, cofounders of Young Women for Change (YWC) in Kabul, Afghanistan.

When Armstrong interviewed Akbar in 2012, the young woman explained that YWC was founded to mobilize the youth. "Sixty-five percent of the population of Afghanistan is under the age of thirty," Akbar noted. "We have never fought a war. We have new ideas. And we want to get rid of those old customs that nobody wants." YWC launched an art contest to create posters championing the organization's causes such as gender equality, women's rights, the participation of women in society and an end to street harassment of girls who, if unaccompanied by male family members, are accosted with sexually explicit comments and even a pinch on the bottom. YWC encourages men to join too. Male and female, they have carried placards to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission calling for women's rights and an end to street harassment. They have established an internet cafe at their headquarters. They have screened a documentary film, "My Voice, My Story," about Anita's personal experiences of harassment followed by a coed discussion of how and why women are targeted and what men and women can do to stop it. We are left with the conviction that Armstrong is right; this is only the beginning.


Sally Armstrong is a best-selling author, journalist and human rights activist with over 25 years of experience reporting on women in conflict situations including Bosnia, Egypt, Congo, The Middle East, Afghanistan and America. She was a member of the UN's International Women's Commission, is a three-time Amnesty International Canada award winner, member of the Order of Canada and holder of seven honorary degrees. Armstrong is the author of Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan's Women, the award-winning Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan, as well as a novel, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her facebook page.

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