By Aarathi Sahadevan
Even if you are one of the many HB girls who took 1000 or more AP tests in the last two weeks, or are eagerly anticipating your last hair-raising finals, it is inevitable that during your grueling hours of studying you did not “accidentally” check Twitter a few hundred times (or maybe Facebook if that’s how you roll) and stumble upon the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Even if you are a perfect student who never procrastinates (stop lying), you would at least have seen the BCA’s beautiful exhibit in the atrium where they wrote “276” out in lamps (see picture below). What I’m getting at is that, one way or another, it is inevitable that you have not paid notice to the global attention focused on the recent tragic kidnapping of the 276 Nigerian girls, which has not only triggered a remarkable global movement in support of their recovery, but also a movement in support of women’s empowerment and education around the world.
On the night of April 14th, more than 300 girls were kidnapped from their dormitories by an Islamist extremist group known as Boko Haram. The students, ranging in age from 15 to 18 years old and being of both Christian and Muslim backgrounds, were savagely herded onto their captors’ trucks as they watched their school, a symbol of hope for their families and their country, burn to ashes. It is suspected that the group was taken farther north to the group’s stronghold in the Sambisa Forest, a dense, unregulated, and virtually inaccessible area. Of the group, 50 girls managed to escape, but 276 girls are still missing. Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls into prostitution, marriage or slavery in the neighboring countries of Chad or Cameroon with each one selling for less than 20 dollars. He has also offered to negotiate the girls’ freedom with Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, if select militants are released from imprisonment. President Jonathan has made it clear that this is not an option, and although the country has been backed by aid in the search from countries like the U.S., it is likely that Boko Haram has dispersed the girls among families within the Sambisa Forest to make tracking even more impossible. The search continues, but no great advancements have been made.
Although 240 of the abducted girls are still missing, the 50 or so who so bravely escaped have told the stories of their capture and escape to freedom, helping in the search for their missing friends. Their story starts in Chibok, their hometown situated slightly southeast of their state’s (Borno) capital of Maiduguri, which is also a Boko Haram hotspot. Just weeks earlier, their all girls’ school as well as many others in the region had been closed down due to the murdering of 59 schoolboys by Boko Haram in the neighboring state of Yobe. Yet, despite the great danger existing so nearby, the girls and their parents were faced with a dilemma we all are facing today: exams. If they did not attend their exams, their aspirations, future success, and parents’ financial investment and sacrifices would all become obsolete. So the girls were sent to school and prepared for a week of testing, many staying in dorms to reduce travel expenses and inconveniences, and none anticipating the tragedy that would soon occur. As Mr. Vogel aptly stated when discussing the incident, “Hindsight is always 20/20”, but the decision to not attend school would have seemed at the time like a resignation to Boko Haram’s message against western education and female empowerment (Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in Huasa, the local language), and to the powers that were holding their nation back. Boko Haram may have made a statement in sharing their message, but instead of proving their point, they have provided a catalyst for the worldwide movement to further the wellbeing, interests, and recognition of the other half of society:girls around the world.