The dreaded 6:00 AM alarm rings a final time. You roll out of bed and get ready for school. The school day flies by, and you get back home safely. You start your homework, eat dinner, check your Twitter feed, reply to your Snapchats, and go to bed. The 6am alarm rings, and it’s time for school, again. At St. Ursula Academy, we are lucky to call this our reality. For many girls around the world, however, our reality is an unattainable dream.
At a Nigerian boarding school, April 14, 2014 began as any other Monday for its 530 female students. After school ended, they returned to their dorms, perhaps talked with their friends, and studied for upcoming exams. In the middle of the night, soldiers of the Boko Haram terrorist group (an Islamic extremist group based in West Africa Province, ISWAP) posed as school guards, broke into the school, and kidnapped hundred of girls. While some girls managed to jump from the terrorists’ moving vehicles and flee to the woods for safety, 276 out of the 530 were reported missing.
The terrors of Boko Haram have been made known to the world through those who have been rescued or escaped. In 2014, the Human Rights Watch released a video (click the link to watch). A 63 page report was released as well, including 30 interviews of survivors. In both, the victimized women are anonymously interviewed on their experiences. One girl shares details of her first night, in which girls were released from captivity, but those considered infidels were forced to stay. Predominantly Christian, these girls were forced to convert to Islam and be married off to an insurgent. Another survivor recalls that soon after she was married off, her abusive husband raped her every night at gun point.
Unfortunately, rape is not uncommon for the young women held captive, and there is often no limit to the physical pain they endure. As an example, Boko Haram believes in female genital mutilation, which severely worsens rapes and the resulting pregnancies. The girls are not only used as sex slaves, but are made into fighters, and, more recently, suicide bombers. One girl recalls the day an insurgent asked her to kill an innocent man. After refusing, she watched the insurgent kill the man himself, which prompted her own thoughts of suicide by stealing her captor’s gun, wishing to free herself with her captor’s bullet.
Similarly, the psychological abuse has no limitations. One survivor is haunted in every waking moment, especially at night in her sleep. Repressed into secrecy by her captors, she is forced to bury her pain, her past, and her fear as if it never happened. Her innocence, courage, and zeal for life are gone. Any sense of humanity was stolen in the mental and physical abuse of the terrorist group. Though the survivors have escaped Boko Haram, they cannot escape their own minds. Even as “free” women, they are still in hiding due to shame and fear. Worst of all, those in captivity far outnumber these few women that have escaped or been rescued.
Two years after the kidnapping, 219 girls from the boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria are yet to be found, and thousands more women and girls have been taken into captivity since then.
In response to the initial kidnapping of the teen girls, the #BringBackOurGirls awareness campaign was started, taking over social media for a time.The hashtag was trending on Twitter, with over 2.3 million retweets. First Lady Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai also took the campaign to Instagram. A Facebook page posts daily as a reminder of this horrific event and its unsolved mystery: where are these girls?
In 2016, however, the story seems lost in a sea of news deemed more important. Media tends to ignore African current events as a whole. For example, when the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hedbo in Paris resulted in 17 dead, Boko Haram simultaneously committed what was called their “deadliest massacre,” with 2,000 people dead in Baga, Nigeria. This tragedy, however, got much less coverage than Paris did. According to Media Cloud, an online research tool that searches and compares media coverage, the Hedbo attacks were featured 21,086 times within the week it took place. The massacre in Nigeria had a mere 2,135 mentions in a week. Why? Paris is a large city known worldwide, whereas Baga, Nigeria is distant and allegedly dangerous.
Continued awareness of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign is the only way to get people’s attention, from our global leaders to the local news station. Currently, the only social media account that is still very active in raising awareness is the campaign’s Facebook page. Every day there is a post with the number of days it’s been since the girls have been kidnapped, and occasionally they post a picture of a missing girl.
One user recently left a comment on a post that questions our global leaders’ role in this issue. The user says that in the past years, we have explored space, including sending a rover to Mars and landing on the moon, yet we have failed to find 219 girls on our own planet. What is being done, or more so, what is not being done? Countless promises of an upcoming return have been made by the Nigerian government as well as our own, yet it has been almost 700 days and there has been virtually no progress. In a world that is so technologically advanced and capable of obtaining knowledge of all kinds, why can’t we rescue these girls?
But alas, social media tends to focus on Kanye’s Twitter rants or Grey’s Anatomy rather than the 219 innocent teenage girls turned suicide bombers, raped at gunpoint, and stripped of humanity and family ties because of Boko Haram. We can help change the focus. Share the #BringBackOurGirls. Let’s bring back our girls in 2016.
Check out these links below for more information:
Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria, a report released by the Human Rights Watch