So, this April marked the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of roughly 270 girls from their school in northeastern Nigeria (Chibok) by militant group Boko Haram. One year on and 219 are still missing. At the time, the kidnapping elicited a wave of indignation, with famous folk, celebrities, and ordinary people lending their support to the cause — namely, finding and bringing these girls back home. And the anger and frustration engendered by the kidnappings brought about a huge social media call-to-action. It nabbed spokesfaces as diverse as a solemn Michelle Obama holding up the homemade #BringBackOurGirls campaign poster, and a provocative Irina Shayk shielding her exposed breasts with the same sign. As an aside, I happen to think both approaches—the sober indignation, and the feisty “this is my body, I’ll do what I want” are symbolic and defiant F-Us to the woman-hating likes of Boko Haram.
Does Action Equal Action?
But sadly, this clarion call hasn’t brought about much productive political action in terms of finding the missing girls. At the time of the kidnapping, the Boko Haram leader boasted that “just because I took some little girls from their Western education, everybody is making noise. I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.”
“just because I took some little girls from their Western education, everybody is making noise. I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.”
How do you deal with this kind of jaw-dropping callousness? You fight back when and where you can. In Nigeria, as in many other areas of the world, including Canada, that means fighting your government’s inertia, ignorance, and seeming disinterest as well. So far, it seems the ones keeping the flame lit in Nigeria are those still most at risk—the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters of the captured girls who still rally everyday in that country. But they are supported by some kickass women (and men) around the world. The social media protest group #BringBackOurGirls was founded by four accomplished and respected Nigerian women who could not and would not sit back and do nothing: Hadiza Bala Usman, Maryam Uwais, Obiageli Ezekwesili, and Saudatu Mahdi. All four are educated and it can be argued, privileged, but they are also fearless and relentless. They rallied when they realized their government was doing absolutely nothing to find the girls. They have the backing of other people of good conscience throughout the world who rally and march to support them and to pressure their own governments to take action and do something.
How Much Are We Worth?
I wonder if Boko Haram stole (or occupied) a commodity of far less value, say 300 oil pipelines, or 300 corporate executives or world leaders, whether they’d still be missing one year later. Kidnapping and selling or forcibly marrying off girls and women is a vital hobby and business for Boko Haram, which has, according to Amnesty International, abducted about 2,000 women in the last year. Imagine, 2,000 women missing, gone, without a trace, with their loved ones left wondering where they went. Of course, for some here in Canada, that isn’t something just to be imagined. It’s something that is lived. The agony felt by the loved ones of the missing Chibok schoolgirls isn’t any different than that felt by the loved ones of missing and murdered Aboriginal women here. And the government inaction is just as unconscionable.
I wonder if Boko Haram stole (or occupied) a commodity of far less value, say 300 oil pipelines, or 300 corporate executives or world leaders, whether they’d still be missing one year later.
Stolen Schoolgirls, Stolen Sisters
The YWCA Canada supported the 2009 No More Stolen Sisters report produced by Amnesty
International. It called for a government response to the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The report is seven years old folks, and still nothing has been done that could change the status quo. Our government hasn’t even acknowledged that misogyny and racism plays a role or that Indigenous women enjoy fewer economic and social rights in our society. Of course, the evil overlords of Boko Haram are an easier target for indignation. They represent one relatively cohesive group bent on preserving their patriarchal privilege through a perverted religious ideology. They swoop in commando-style and kidnap, terrorize, and kill dozens or hundreds at a time. They don’t seek to hide their actions and in fact are open about what they hate seek to destroy: the education of women, women’s rights, potential for equality etc etc. In contrast, the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada weren’t taken en mass from one location. They were picked off one by one by different people—some perhaps known to them, some not. But picked off nonetheless, and picked off because they were indigenous women.
Support Your Sisters
Boko Haram is a pox on Nigeria and a problem that needs to be addressed through government intervention. The murderers of Indigenous women in Canada, although individuals, have their own ideology of hate. This hate points to a social problem we need to address. We can’t fix it without government acknowledgment and help. Like the kidnapped girls of Chibok, the lives of indigenous women are worth something.
What To Do?
So, all that said, you ask “okay, what can I do that matters?” It may sound too simple, but you can start by really noticing. That’s exactly what the founders of #BringBackOurGirls believe and they’re not giving up. You can get active and support organizations that are pushing for government intervention on the missing schoolgirls in Chibok and the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) Sisters in Spirit projects, and Families of Sisters in Spirit. NWAC has even produced a community resource guide on how to be an ally. You can apply pressure on governments by writing letters, joining rallies, and supporting the families of the missing (again, in Canada, see NWAC’s guide on how to help in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner). You can also vote for a government that believes the lives of vulnerable girls and women matter, and ask candidates if they would support inquiries and action plans. Nigeria recently had an election and the president who promised to retrieve the schoolgirls but instead did nothing was ousted. The new president, Muhammadu Buhari has promised to go after Boko Haram, but could not promise to bring the girls back. Canada will have a federal election in the fall. Let’s see if we can act in solidarity with Aboriginal families and groups who have been fighting this fight for years and get missing Indigenous women on the election agenda.