Three weeks ago, on April 15, over 200 girls were abducted in northern Nigeria — forcibly taken by Islamic militants from their boarding school in Chibok.
While the rest of the world was oblivious to their plight, the girls, who were asleep in their dormitory, reportedly awoke to gunfire. Their kidnappers — heavily armed terrorists from the extremist Muslim group Boko Haram — attacked the school, set it ablaze, and then left with the terrified girls, whose ages range from 15 to 18.
The reason behind the attack? Education, or more specifically, Boko Haram’s belief that girls should not be educated. In fact, Boko Haram, in the Hausa language, actually means ‘Western education is a sin.’
‘Education is a sin’
New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof says in his May 3 column that the attack in Nigeria is part of a global backlash against girls’ education by extremists. He writes, “The Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head at age 15 because she advocated for girls’ education. Extremists threw acid in the faces of girls walking to school in Afghanistan. And in Nigeria, militants destroyed 50 schools last year alone.”
More kidnappings, more pleas for help
Just a few hours before I started writing this post, news reports about more kidnappings in Nigeria came out. People in Nigeria — especially the families of the abducted girls — are desperately seeking help from the local government and people around the world. Their plea to “bring our girls back!” is slowly getting heard in other countries, including the U.S., where protests have been held because of the slow response of the Nigerian government — and the governments that are capable of helping them — to the kidnappings.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau recently appeared on a video that has sparked greater outrage and fear over the girls’ plight. Shekau claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying:
“Just because I took some little girls in Western education, everybody is making noise.
“Let me tell you, I took the girls. Girls go and get married. We are against Western education.
“I repeat I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.”
Selling of girls and arranged marriages
Sadly, the ‘selling’ of girls is not a new thing. It has been happening for the longest time now — not just in Nigeria but in many, many parts of the world, especially in countries where the pursuit of education is deemed unsuitable for girls. Arranged marriages are quite common in these areas too, and the selling off of girls isn’t a surprising thing to some.
Which is why the recent tragedies in Nigeria are even more alarming — it had to take a mass kidnapping and abusive act such as this for people to take attention and be ‘outraged.’ The reality is, girls are being oppressed and abused in so many places all the time. So what are we to do about it?
Pray and act for Nigeria… And the World
As ordinary citizens, we might not be able to do much in terms of directly helping the Nigerian government recover the kidnapped schoolgirls. As Catholics though, we can do our part by calling on the heavenly ‘forces’ and lifting up their plight in our prayers.
Pray for the girls, pray for their kidnappers (yes, they need our prayers too!), pray for those involved in rescue operations, pray for our governments to do something concrete to help countries like Nigeria. Pray for the WORLD. It may sound cliche to some, but we believe that prayer is power, and can work miracles and move mountains.
Of course, with prayer comes action too. In your own way, help spread the word about the Nigerian schoolgirls’ plight. Use the hashtag #bringbackourgirls in your social media posts about them. Support groups and organizations that fight against the discrimination and abuse of women/girls, as well as groups and organizations that seek to provide education to females of all ages and races. Offer up Masses for this specific intention, or maybe even hold prayer gatherings just to intercede for the millions of girls and women who need our prayers every day. If you have kids, teach them to pray for these intentions too.
In the end, the little we do may not seem much, but in the eyes of our Lord, it will make a difference.
Before reading this article, had you ever heard of what is happening in Nigeria? How else do you think we can help the victims of attacks like those that happened there?
Copyright 2014 Tina Santiago-Rodriguez