When the right to education becomes a reason for warfare

22 / 05 / 2014

Ensuring girls and women have access to education has the power to transform the world. The mass abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria last month highlights how in many places around the world this fundamental right is seriously under threat. Sheree Rubinstein argues for continued activism on a global scale, cialis both online and offline, health and explains why we must never give up the fight for education.

The undeniable force of a girl with a pencil and an aspiration

Today, cialis one of the greatest resources we can give a girl is a pencil to write with and a book to read. With the tool of education girls can transform societies, influence families and communities, drive social and economic impact, solve poverty and fight terrorism.

Education empowers girls and women which, in turn, empowers us all.

It is this same undeniable and profound force of an educated girl that can simultaneously ignite immense fear. Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group that continues to spread havoc in the region, is terrified of the influential power of a girl with a pencil and an aspiration.

On April 14 several heavily armed men from the terrorist group of Boko Haram stormed a boarding school, in the Northern Nigerian town of Chibok, kidnapping 276 teenage schoolgirls. It has been a month since the abduction. Some of the girls have escaped. Most of the girls are still missing. They are reportedly being sold to militants for $12 each. They are being forced, against their will, to become wives. In a video released on May 5, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the abduction and outlined his abhorrent political motivations. “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market by Allah.” In the eyes of Boko Haram, western education is forbidden and girls should be married not educated.

Initially, the Nigerian government’s response to the abduction was unjustifiably slow and disproportionate to the issue. Nigerian citizens and the broader international community have condemned the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and his government for its inept reaction and slow response to offers of overseas aid.

The reality is that this abduction is not an isolated case. Since 2009 Boko Haram has been engaged in a violent and bloody campaign against the Nigerian government. It is estimated that at least 1,200 people have been killed this year alone. The Nigerians are fed up. Why has it taken so long for the Nigerian government to respond to such unconscionable terrorism? Why has it taken so long for the President to declare that he would take all necessary steps to return the young girls to their parents? In fact, Amnesty International has recently released a damning report alleging that, despite advanced warning, the Nigerian military declined to provide assistance to the schoolgirls. The people of Nigeria have declared that this is simply not good enough.

With immense anger towards their own government, frustration towards the mainstream media for its initial lack of comprehensive coverage and a deep desperation for their girls to be rescued, Nigerians took to the streets to stage daily protests. They began to raise global awareness. On April 23 the Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, Obiageli Ezekwesili, gave a speech in Nigeria in which she urged the government to intervene and “bring back our girls.” Nigerians began to repeat her call on social media adopting the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The Bring Back Our Girls movement quickly spread and online pandemonium erupted. People from all around the world have flooded social media feeds with words of solidarity, images of hope and hashtags demanding action. In the last month more than one million people have tweeted #BringBackOurGirls.

Alongside this viral social media campaign, people everywhere are physically protesting. People are signing petitions on Change.org to support all efforts to ensure the girls are rescued and that all schools are safe places to learn. People are being reminded of the stark reality that access to safe education for girls is a basic right that is being threatened across the globe.

In the last few weeks, the Nigerian government has felt the pressure from global awareness, international condemnation and street demonstrations all around the world. President Jonathan has finally sought international assistance from the United States, Britain, France, Israel and China in the desperate hope to find and rescue these girls. International efforts increased in the wake of another video released on May 12 in which Boko Haram’s leader demanded the release of imprisoned militants in exchange for the kidnapped schoolgirls. The video allegedly shows some of the kidnapped girls dressed in Islamic attire and reciting verses from the Koran.

As the search to find the kidnapped girls continues, the Nigerians have been instrumental in demanding worldwide attention and raising awareness. In doing so, the Nigerians have transformed this critical discussion. It is not only a Nigerian issue, nor is it only a girls’ or a women’s issue. It is a global issue and one that affects us all.

It wasn’t all that long ago, on October 9 2012, when the same familiar cries for the right to education came from Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by the Taliban. At the age of 15, she was condemned for speaking out as an activist for girls and education. Yousafzai continues to advocate and bring to light the plight of millions of children around the world. In relation to the Nigerian abduction, she recently proclaimed, “If we remain silent then this will spread, this will happen more and more and more.” Schools are not supposed to be unsafe places riddled with violence. A school is a haven where children go to learn, create opportunities and dream of a better future.

The world has witnessed the profound power of a hashtag. Yet, a hashtag is by no means the answer or the end to this horrific narrative. In the last month, social media has reminded us that it is an incredible tool to spread information to the masses. At the same time, social media reminds us of how helpless a hashtag can be in truly eradicating a global issue. Until the girls are brought back safely, we must continue to demand “Bring Back Our Girls” both online and offline.

On May 7, in response to the growing number of attacks on the right to education, and as part of the movement to Bring Back Our Girls, a coalition of Nigerian business leaders working with the UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown, the Global Business Coalition for Education and a World at School have launched a much needed Safe Schools Initiative. These efforts are in response to the cries and demands for change. It is an attempt to make schools in Nigeria a safe place. Such an initiative should receive welcoming praise but it is only the beginning.

An educated girl has the power and the tools to change the world. However, as long as girls continue to be denied a formal education, this fight will go on. An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Despite the well-known risks in Nigeria, parents and families sent their girls to school on the basic premise that their daughters have the right to an education. In a region where only a small percentage of the population finishes secondary school, these girls bravely chose the rare path of education. We must continue the fight for education. It is our duty to raise awareness, engage and take action. Real change starts by speaking out about the change you wish to see in the world and we must continue to do this long after the hype and social media trend to #BringBackOurGirls has dissipated.

 

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