Hundreds of schoolgirls that were abducted from Chibok, Nigeria are still being held captive by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. While 53 girls were able to escape, hundreds are still held by the group that has been responsible for years of violence in northern Nigeria.
Some of the escaped young women have given interviews, revealing a frightening ordeal. Al Jazeera reports, “The escaped girls spoke to visiting Borno state officials on May 5. In the video, which was handed out by the Borno State governor's office, the women gathered at the school cried, as the students spoke of their ordeal. Another girl recounted how she and her friend decided to run for their lives. ‘I told my friend that it is better to be killed than to be taken to a place that we did not know,’ she said.” These terrified girls risked their lives in fleeing their captors, yet so many other of their classmates remain hostages of the notorious terror group.
A recently released video shows about 100 of the girls reciting a passage from the Quran. In the video, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram, claims he may be ready to negotiate for the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls (only the ones who have not been converted to Islam, however) in exchange for the release of imprisoned members of his group.
Muslim leaders from around the world have roundly denounced Boko Haram and its actions. The BBC reports that “top Muslim scholars from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said this ‘crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organisations contradicts all humanitarian principles and moral values and violates the provisions of the Koran and Sunna’—or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.” Other Muslim leaders such as Faheem Younus and Dean Obeidallah have taken the opportunity to also denounce media coverage that uses this moment to launch into Islamophobic tirades that paint the religion and its practitioners as fundamentally violent. Not only are such views dressing up anti-Islamic sentiment as reasonable politics, it also shifts the focus away from the young women who have been kidnapped who should be at the center of our discussions.
Many in both Nigeria and in the international community have decried the Nigerian federal government’s response lackluster response to this violence. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has been particularly under fire for his (in)action. Deutsche Welle calls Jonathan a “powerless president” and reports that, “Immediately following the kidnapping, the department said the military had freed the girls. After that, the government was forced to admit they had no information on the whereabouts of the students. Members of the government in the meantime have even denied the abduction took place at all. The president's wife, Patience Jonathan, accused some members of faking the abduction in a bid to harm the government.” President Jonathan has now accepted international aid in locating the girls, but it is clear that more needs to be done in Nigeria to return these young women to their families.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been widely used across social media platforms to bring awareness of the plight of these young women across the world. And while the hashtag has been successful to highlighting the circumstance, it has also come under fire. Some argue that online activism will do little to actually “bring back our girls,” while others, such as professional conservative instigator Ann Coulter have attempted to hijack the message with less than successful results. While the limitations of online activism are worth noting, it is clear that when online activism is plugged into work on the ground—e.g. the protests during the Arab Spring—it can be a powerful agent for social change.
Unfortunately, the abduction and trafficking of young women is far from a rare occurrence. This is an endemic social ill that is a problem many countries. Rather than a moment of twiddling our collective thumbs, this has the potential to a moment where the global community shows up for girls and women, not only pooling our resources to rescue the schoolgirls from Chibok, but to also make the abduction and trafficking of young women not just another headline but something that we take seriously.