We want our daughters, sisters and friends back!
Mothers are traumatized! The sighing, wailing, torrential tears and agony of affected and concerned individuals rents the air. It must not be ignored nor wished away! "We are on the twenty third day and no girl has been rescued. That causes concern" says Hadiza Bala Usman, Coordinator #BringBackOurGirls movement in Nigeria in her response to a question asked by Femi Oke who anchored 'the stream', an Aljazeera TV and online show. I was not in the least surprised that the May 7th 2014 episode was titled 'Nigeria's Kidnapped Schoolgirls'.
As I write, 24 long and anxiety filled days have slipped by since news first broke out about the kidnapping of over 300 hundred Nigerian teenage girls from their dormitory at an all-girls public school; located in the town of Chibok in Borno State, North Eastern Nigeria on the night of April 14, 2014. Though 53 of them escaped under inhumane conditions, the exact figures and whereabouts of the remaining unfortunate girls remains hazy. However, confirmed reports have linked the abduction to the terrorist group which goes by the name 'Boko Haram' (which means Western education is a sin in the local Hausa language.
The devastating occurrence which is weighing heavily on the minds of Nigerians, especially women and girls is now shared as a global calamity. Voices have been rising and echoing "#BRINGBACKOURGIRLS". Across homes, schools, religious gatherings, public events, media, on the streets, and the Web (news websites, blogs, social networking platforms etc), the obvious and clear message is '#BRINGBACKOURGIRLS'. This four worded phrase has become engraved on many hearts and is being displayed on placards, posters, banners, t-shirts, photographs and videos, all in an attempt to drum up the seriousness of the issue and also call for drastic and greater action by the Nigerian government to free the kidnapped girls.
Even as the outcries to rescue the girls is gaining resounding momentum, it is quite tragic that the bloody attacks have continued unabated and has become a major setback especially for education in Northern Nigeria. Like poisonous arrows that hit it's target, the onslaught on schools and schoolgirls by the insurgents has added to the growing list of setbacks to girl-child education. School is now the last thing on the minds of girls across affected communities, thus worsening an already bad situation in the Education sector in Northern Nigeria. According to a 2010 United Nations Children's Education Fund (UNICEF) report, "Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls".
Despite a significant increase in net enrollment rates in recent years as a result of a policy of free basic education in Nigeria, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school. In the North particularly, the gender gap remains particularly wide and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys to 1 to 3 in some States. For example, the net enrollment rate for girls into secondary school by 2008 was 22%., some states in the north such as Jigawa, record girls' completion rates as low as 7.8%. Factors such as parent unwillingness to send their daughters to school due to the position of girls in family accounted for this. In the face of such discriminatory stances, Nigerian women and girls remain disadvantaged in many areas of life (including education, employment, health, and civil rights) and these makes them the most vulnerable to various forms of societal ills.
Education has been recognized as the most important tool which an individual can explore for self and and societal improvement. The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to promote gender equality and empower women therefore uses education as its target and the measure of gender disparity in education as its indicator of progress. In her analysis of a research report produced by Nigerians from various sectors (the academia, legal profession, development partners and civil society groups) which revealed the poor state of education in Northern Nigeria, Hajiya Bilkisu an educationist writes that "We see it as a paradox and are concerned that the states with the poorest education statistics are predominantly Muslim states whereas Islam makes education compulsory for all. Education is a fundamental right for girls and fulfilling this basic right is the only way to realize other rights of the girl child. In Nigeria, there is a sharp decline in the standard of education, particularly in the northern part of the country and there is a corresponding decrease in girls' enrollment, retention and completion of senior secondary school in the region. Early marriage is common in Northern Nigeria, and girls are often married shortly after puberty, i.e. between the ages of 12 to 13 and this is the period when most are expected to transit to secondary school. This high rate of early marriage not only deprives them from pursuing their education but it is also linked to early sexual initiation and early exposure to reproductive risk, early and unattended first birth, and other related health and social problems like Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF), divorce, broken homes which by extension has its attendant problems on society". Going by this long standing disparities, it is worrisome that an already bad situation is being made worse by the traumatic marks left by the insurgents.
It has become very expedient to nip the Fear and terror that is now rife among school age girls across Nigeria in the bud, as it spells a situation where the future of a whole generation of girls will be compromised. My earnest plea, therefore, to the Nigerian government and global leaders is that they should ensure that this does not happen. They must as a matter of urgency work round the clock to rescue the abducted girls and also take further steps towards ensuring that the world becomes a safe, secure and just place where girls are free to aspire, achieve and inspire. Every girl has a dream she longs to fulfill and we have a huge responsibility to make it happen. Together we can overcome our differences and create a world where terror does not thrive, rule or reign.