Today, the shocking news has been revealed that in addition to the 270 girls taken by Boko Haram in the northern Nigerian state of Borno three weeks ago, a further eight have been abducted. This week, their leader Abubakar Shekau addressed the world on camera to accept responsibility for the kidnapping. In the video, Shekau clearly set out that it is his intention to sell the captives. “Leave western education ladies, go and get married, leave western education. I’m the one that captured your girls, I’ll sell them in the market. There’s a market for selling people. Allah commanded me to sell. I’ll sell women as commanded by Allah until the land is filled with the blood of unbelievers.”
This chilling statement, in conjunction with the confirmation that more girls have been seized has brought renewed attention to the plight of the kidnapped girls. US President Barack Obama has called it a ‘a heartbreaking, outrageous situation’, and confirmed that Nigerian leaders had accepted an offer to deploy a team of military and law enforcement professionals to ‘help identify where in fact these girls might be and provide them help’. Last night, Nigerian finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala framed the kidnapping as part of a wider struggle: a global fight against girls and women. She stressed the need to ‘come together as a country, as a community, as a world to say “no, our girls must be educated; no, our girls must be allowed to go to school; no, we will not give in to terror; yes, we will stand up for what is right.”’ She drew a parallel between Nigeria and Pakistan, where in 2012 Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education. Last week, Malala spoke on the kidnapping, stating that ‘these abducted schoolgirls are my sisters, and I call on the international community and the government of Nigeria to take action and save my sisters’. It now seems that after three weeks, Nigerian security forces, assisted by other countries, have the resources and support to make a renewed effort to find the girls.
Of course, a bolstered security effort is needed to find the kidnapped girls, but this also misses the broader point that the finance minister made. To truly confront issues such as girls’ education, we need to do more than provide physical security for citizens. Threats are comprised of an intent and a means, and whilst using the state to remove the means can often prevent incidents such as kidnappings, the only way to address these issues in the long term is to remove the intent which is rooted in ideologies and societal attitudes. Many in Nigeria question the value of girls’ education, and have a patriarchal view of women’s role in society, with 54% rejecting the idea that women should have equal rights. Fighting the battle against those who want to prevent girls from being educated requires robust security measures; but in the long term it also requires individuals and organisations to vocally and repeatedly undermine the ideology behind these acts by making the case to those in power for the value of girls’ education, the importance of secure environments for learning, and the simple truth that women are human beings and should be afforded the same rights as their male counterparts. In Nigeria and across the Commonwealth, there is still huge work to be done.