Since the middle of April 2014, the chant “Bring back our girls!” has reverberated across Nigeria and the world (even making its way to the recent the Cannes Film Festival), making it’s way to all forms of social media as the ubiquitous hashtag. However, media coverage about the girls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram has dwindled since the height of that social media campaign, yet the dire situation remains. Around 60 girls have escaped, however, hundreds of girls are still missing.
At first Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan rebutted outside help in the search for the missing schoolgirls. However, NPR now notes that, “The U.S. and other nations have contributed manpower and resources to the search for the girls, whose mass kidnapping inspired an international campaign demanding their safe return. U.S. surveillance aircraft have taken part in the search, using sensors that can detect body heat in complex environments.” It seems as though this combined manpower has made major headway, because according to the country’s chief of defense, “Nigeria's military has located nearly 300 school girls abducted by Islamic extremists but fears using force to try to free them could get them killed.”
USA Today reports that Air Marshal Alex Barde recently told demonstrators that the Nigerian government simply cannot disclose the location of the abducted schoolgirls: “We want our girls back. I can tell you that our military can and will do it, but where they are held, can we go there with force? Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing; we can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back. The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you...We cannot come and tell you the military secret. Just leave us alone; we are working to get the girls back.”
The international taskforce searching for these girls is seemingly caught up in a sort of catch 22. On the one hand, pressures from the families of the young women and the international community are charging them to act quickly. Yet, on the other hand, this is a delicate operation. Using too much force could jeopardize the girls’ safety even further. Nevertheless, some of this indecision may also be connected to the earlier lack of transparency and stalling that plagued the earlier search.
One serious obstacle, however, is the issue of negotiation. The BBC reports that, “an intermediary met leaders of the Islamist group and visited the place where they were being held. He says agreement was almost reached to release 50 of the girls in exchange for the release of 100 Boko Haram prisoners. But the Nigerian government pulled out of the deal after President Goodluck Jonathan attended a conference on the crisis in Paris. The reasons for the withdrawal are unclear.”
The questions remains, will these girls be released from their captors? If so, when and how will they be released? And what is to be of their lives when and if they are returned to their families?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do think we need to continue to ask these questions and others. “Bringing back our girls” cannot be limited to this one very necessary rescue mission. We need to think—and act—energetically about the ways in which girls and women are routinely implicated as pawns in wars.
Check out the following organizations that work on fighting this practice all over the world: