CHIBOK, Nigeria — It has now been over three months since over 200 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped, and so far, despite global outrage and #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter, the vast majority are still not freed. This kidnapping is reflective of self-damaging attitudes held toward women’s education in both certain parts of Nigeria and the world.
The girls were taken by Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group with suspected ties to Al-Qaeda , on the night of April 14 in Chibok, Nigeria. Created in 2002 by Islamist cleric Muhammad Yusuf in the northern areas of Nigeria where both Islam and poverty predominate, many see this group as a reaction to the genuine governmental grievances by the people and the sharp wealth disparity of the Nigerian citizens. The avowed goal of the organization is to create a wholly radical Islamic state in Nigeria.
With the death of Yusuf in 2009, the group has become increasingly more violent with many civilians being targeted in attacks and is currently split into several diffuse factions. In 2013, the United States government declared Boko Haram and Ansaru a notable splinter group of the Boko Haram who, in 2013, kidnapped and killed international construction workers as foreign terrorist organizations.
The kidnapping then of the over 200 Nigerian girls was done in response to the Nigerian governmental campaigns against the Boko Haram, and the alleged capture of thousands of their members. With little being visibly done concerning the kidnapping, many see inactivity and incompetence as characterizing Goodluck Jonathon’s, the Nigerian president’s, responses to this crime. Since their kidnapping the bodies of two of the students were reportedly found. More recently, it has been reported that 63 of the girls escaped. However, despite this good news, this still leaves over 200 girls left in the care of the Boko Haram.
The specific targeting and kidnapping of female students, as well as the Boko Haram’s subsequent threats of selling them, reveal the harmful attitudes present toward women and women’s education. Boko Haram, which translates roughly to “Western education is sinful,” disagree with this education based on the radical Islam they espouse.
The Independent, a British newspaper, reports that in the poorer northern regions of Nigeria roughly 50 percent of the girls are married before they turn 15 years old. With girls becoming brides at such a young age, their continued education becomes an impossibility and shows a the lack of emphasis on it in general in the region. Women are, according to the attitudes present, meant to be wives and mothers and not scholars.
However, as Michelle Obama, wife of U.S. President Barack Obama, states in a talk on the matter, “What has been going on in Nigeria is a tragic reminder of the challenges that young girls all over the world are facing trying to get an education.” This kidnapping is simply the most visible attack in a long series of attacks on women’s education throughout the world.
Meanwhile, the benefits of women’s education are manifold. The USAID, which invests $1 billion each year from the U.S. government in lower income countries for promoting equal opportunities for both sexes in education, reports that “a girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS” and that “educated women re-invest 90 percent of their income in their family.”
Furthermore, they report that children born to literate mothers are over half as likely to survive past the age of 5 years old. From this, one can see that the education of women comes with clear and proven benefits to the public health and economy of a nation. Global poverty and the spread of the diseases both can be combatted through the emphasis on education for both sexes.
Clearly then, there is a correlation between the wealth of a nation and the education of the female sex. Ironically, the same conditions which spawned the Boko Haram, the desperate poverty and inequality of Northern Nigeria, are exactly what the further education and emphasizing of education of women in Nigeria can combat. By empowering women with education, nations empower themselves. As Michelle Obama said rather succinctly while talking on this matter, “Countries are stronger when their women and girls are educated.”
For now, however, the education of girls is still woefully inadequate in Northern Nigeria and many parts of the world, with it being underdeveloped and underemphasized. And as for the majority of the over 200 Nigerian girls, they are still missing.
– Albert Cavallaro