A massive kidnapping has recently rocked Nigeria and shined a spotlight on the attack on women’s education. On April 16, 234 schoolgirls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. These young women were taken from their dormitory at night while they prepared for their final exams in physics. The young women taken are between 16 and 18 years old.
While no individual or group has taken responsibility for the abduction, the jihadist militant group Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden,” has been marked as the captors. Boko Haram was founded in 2002 and was declared a terrorist group by United States in 2013. As their name suggests, they are largely opposed to Western education, especially for girls and women. However, their goals reach far beyond opposing Western styles of schooling: in 2009 they launched military operations to create an Islamic state. Indeed, the group “seeks to destroy anything that does not agree with strict interpretation of Islamic texts, such as the idea of a spherical Earth, evolution, or the water cycle. Education of women is also forbidden. They have a history of violence in the area and have killed more than 1,500 people already this year in a series of attacks against schools, mosques, villages, military installations, and public areas” (Source). Amnesty International has studied Boko Haram and has argued that there is a humanitarian crisis occurring because of the violence and disorder that the group incites.
The girls’ parents have formed their own search parties and vigilante groups to recover their family members. However, it seems that some of the girls have been married to militants against their will. The Guardian reports that “the searchers were told that the students had been divided into at least three groups, according to farmers and villagers who had seen truckloads of girls moving around the area. One farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the insurgents had paid leaders dowries and fired celebratory gunshots for several minutes after conducting mass wedding ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday.” Other reports indicate that some of the girls have not only been married off, but have also been carried out of Nigeria to nearby countries such as Cameroon and Chad as prisoners of war: “Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first threatened to treat captured women and girls as slaves in a video released in May 2013. It fueled concern at the time that the group is adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their ‘masters’ can have sex.” While some girls have escaped their captors, many more are still being held by this terrorist organization.
So far, parents have been vocal about their problems with the Nigerian government’s response, or lack thereof, to the abduction. There have been protests and much justifiable anger. Will Ross from the BBC reports, “There has been a great deal of anger in Nigeria because many have the impression that the government is doing far too little to secure the release of the teenage girls who are believed to be in the hands of the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. Parents of the abducted students have been left to rely on rumours as officials have said very little. In the pouring rain, people marched to the National Assembly and delivered their message to the politicians themselves. The Senate President David Mark was there. He told the drenched crowd that the military must do everything within its means to rescue the students.”
Social media has been integral in raising global awareness of these missing young women. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been trending on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Although some might cast aspersions against the usefulness of social media in real world violence, the fact of the matter is that this situation requires vigilance, support, and awareness on a variety of fronts in order to end this violent standoff. Let's bring back our girls!