Her mind begins to race as she consolidates her knowledge from six years of secondary education into a daunting culmination: her Senior Secondary Certificate Examination. With the help of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Universal Basic Education Commission, she has been able to fight the patriarchal system. She has escaped the 39% of adolescent females coerced into marriage by the age of eighteen; she has escaped the 25.3% of girls forced to work rather than learn; but most importantly, she has escaped the incessant psychological deterioration of a society that places her role under that of a man’s. In her daily battle against traditional values and lack of adequate government support, she must do well on this examination in order to even have a chance at a college degree.
Suddenly, in the middle of the examinations, the sound of gunshots startles her, and a group of soldiers rush into the school. Under the guise of providing a safe escape, on April 14, they take her and 275 other girls from their village to a remote location, never to be seen again. Two days after the kidnapping, the military stated that most of the girls had been freed from the hands of Boko Haram, the terrorist organization responsible. However, in true Nigerian fashion, the military quickly retracted their statement when they realized the severity of Boko Haram’s actions and the blatant error in their information. Outraged at the government’s ineptitude and hesitation, the Nigerian people took to the streets to demand an active government search for these girls. The Nigerian government’s unwillingness to take the threat of Boko Haram seriously and the common people’s general distrust of the military led to an international fury. The story zoomed from Nigerian streets to the newsroom to the teenager’s Twitter feed in a matter of days. Abhubaker Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, then issued a video, in which he revealed his plans to sell the girls as slaves and characterized the West as Christian killers. Most recently, the Nigerian government promised the release of 100 Boko Haram detainees in return for 50 girls, but pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour. In fact, according to Nigerian soldiers, the generals are not only more interested in profit than fighting terrorism, but some are even guilty of selling weapons to Boko Haram. When even the government, an entity responsible for the preservation of justice, succumbs to extremism, the public finds itself in a state of paralysis. And despite international pressure, the girls, kidnapped over a month ago, still have not all been freed. Fundamentalism squashes basic women’s rights. Again.
Sadly, this is just the latest in a litany of horrors that women have faced in territories ruled by extremist groups. Our news stories have teemed with the heroes of the Middle East from Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban for advocating the education of women, to Aesha Mohammadzai, the Afghani whose nose and ears were sliced off for fleeing her abusive husband. Every day, there is some sickening story, some gruesome tale that seems to be straight out of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Arabian Nights. This unabashed violence and human objectification, harkening back to medieval times, despite vehement protests, still persists. For every Parveen, who was beaten to death by her family for asserting her freedom of choice in marriage, there are 4999 other honor killings each year that the media doesn’t report. And, of course, there still exist the daily cases of rape, human trafficking, and genital mutilation, to name a few. What’s worse, this physical violence pales in comparison to the cruel yet subtle forms of oppression that these women face daily. They are slowly stripped of their right to education, their only hope of advancement in the backwards system, while they gradually lose any semblance of freedom. Soon, women view themselves as not only barred from the freedom granted to men, but incapable of even possessing independence. Their psyche becomes so conditioned by the patriarchal society that they begin to accept their role as subservient to masculine needs.
But why? Of course, the objectification of women exists in several cultures and third-world nations, but why do extremist Islam groups actively seek to prevent the growth of women? Yes, many of the attacks on women occur in impoverished regions of the Middle East and Africa and can be, in part, attributed to poor economic conditions and reliance on traditional values. However, Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most subversive country of all, has one of the highest per capita GNIs in the region ($18,030). After realizing the oppression of women is not due to economic factors, the West immediately blames Islamic influence. After all, the Boko Haram chanted “Allahu Akhbar” as they drove away from Chibok. But, upon analyzing the Koran, it is apparent its attitude towards woman is no different than those of any other religious text. Islam is only used in these radical groups as a force to both unite extremist members and induce an “us vs. them” mentality towards the West.
Their hostility towards the West stems from the shameful history of colonization and intervention in regional affairs. But, to say that the active prevention of women’s rights is simply a manifestation of their anti-Western ideal would be naïve. In truth, the reason for the continued oppression of women is a muddy mixture of xenophobia, anti-Westernization, the traditional patriarchal values, and unparalleled unity and organization. All of these causes, although each complex in its own way, can be boiled down to one word: ignorance. It is the ignorance of terrorist groups that cause them to justify moving girls from education to prostitution. It is the ignorance of the government that fears terrorism so much that it fails to fight for the unjustly wronged. But most of all, it is the ignorance of the girls, who are woefully unaware of their potential in a society that constantly weakens their will. During a speech in Saudi Arabia, upon being asked about the country’s technological potential, Bill Gates replied, “If you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.”
With the mentality of Gates, first world nations must work to expel the ignorance clouding women’s rights and empower the African girl to appreciate her own worth.
Kristof, Nicholas D. “The Women’s Crusade.” The New York Times. The New York Times Co., 17 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 May 2014.
“Nigerian Education Profile.” U.S. Diplomatic Mission To Nigeria. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 29 May 2014.
“Nigeria: Statistics.” Unicef. Unicef, 27 Dec. 2013. Web. 29 May 2014.
Oseni, Audu Liberty. “Who is Protecting Boko Haram? Is the Nigerian Government involved in a Conspiracy?” Global Research: Center for Research on Globalization. Global Research, 28 May 2014. Web. 29 May 2014
“Saudi Arabia: Statistics.” Unicef. Unicef, 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 May 2014.
“Timeline: Nigeria Schoolgirls Abduction.” CBC News. CBC, 12 May 2014. Web. 29