Imagine what would happen if, here in the UK, a group of men dressed in military uniforms broke into a school in the middle of the night and kidnapped hundreds of female students aged 16-18. Imagine the public outcry that would emerge if the head of the British Armed Forces falsely claimed two days later that all but eight of the young women had been rescued and returned to their families. Imagine the news coverage.
The details of the kidnappings that took place on April 14th are sketchy, and vary depending on whether you listen to the Nigerian government or the families and teachers of the kidnapped students. It is not clear exactly how many young women are missing (officials say 129, families say 234), or exactly where they are (it is thought they were taken to the Sambisa forest, but they may now have been trafficked into Chad and Cameroon). It is almost certain that they were taken by insurgents from Boko Haram, a terrorist group whose name means 'western education is forbidden/sinful', and that they were taken because they had refused to stop attending school (they were about to sit their final physics exam).
Some reports have now stated that the young women have been sold into 'marriage' (actually it's human trafficking) with Boko Haram militants for 2,000 naira ($12) each. This is a case of mass rape. And yet it has still received minimal news coverage and does not appear anywhere on the BBC's 'most popular' list. The Guardian has been following the story with a series of articles, but these are still beaten on the 'most viewed' list by a video of a sperm whale exploding.
It seems that the British public aren't that bothered about hundreds of young Nigerian women being held captive by a group of terrorists who have played a part in the murders of over 1,500 people this year alone. This is clearly a massive cultural failing on our part, but what's more is that we are failing the kidnapped women by dismissing their story as insignificant. We might not be able to ride into the forest and free them, but we can help to spread their story in the hope that their government and ours will realise that they need to do more about this.
Every Woman Counts
The discrepancies in the reports of how many students have been kidnapped are incredibly worrying. If that number is inaccurate even by one, that means one woman who is not going to be searched for, let alone freed. Officials in Nigeria stated that 129 students were missing because that was the number scheduled to sit the physics exam, but according to the students' families and teachers the number is actually 234. The voices of the families are clearly vital in this case, because if they had not been heard 105 missing young women would have gone unreported.
Officials Have Lied
Despite the Nigerian military's claim two days after the kidnapping that all but eight of the students had been freed, the only young women to escape have been the ones who did so of their own accord. It has been reported that 34 managed to jump off the back of the trucks that were taking them away, and 10 more escaped when their captors left them alone to cook. Eighteen-year-old Deborah Sanya was one of these women, as she persuaded two of her friends to run away with her after they reached the Boko Haram camp. You can read her story here. The lies told by officials about the whereabouts of the young women not only reveal a shocking lack of empathy and responsibility, they also show a lack of power that calls into question what will actually be done to solve this situation where women have become the spoils of war, mere objects to be taken, sold and passed on.
People Are Fighting Back
On Wednesday, hundreds of men and women wore red to march in protest against the Nigerian government's response to the kidnappings. Holding placards that said 'Rescue Our Chibok Girls' and 'The Girls Don't Deserve This', they walked in the rain with the hope of raising awareness about what has happened. The families of the kidnapped students have accused the security services of ignoring the situation and of trying to cover up the true scale of events. It is unthinkable that military and government officials could refuse to acknowledge the disappearance of so many promising young women. To do so would show the world how little they truly value women, not to mention how little power they truly have.
This post first appeared on the Token Feminist blog. See it in its original context here.