The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls is a crisis of our humanity. What will become of us if half of humanity is not fully safe, empowered and free? We will all perish. Let us begin to repair the world today.
The story of the missing girls of Nigeria is a catastrophe, but it is part of a tale that began long ago and continues today. It will continue tomorrow if we do not act to stop it by deciding what we will say "no" to, and what we will say "yes" to. Oppression of women and girls is about domination, violence and pure unadulterated evil.
The author James Baldwin wrote: "For these are all our children." Today and every day, these are all our girls, our daughters, our mothers, our friends, ourselves.
Our brains are wired for narrative. We yearn to be the story. This story of girls wrenched from their lives, from their dearest hopes, from their freedom, leaves us anguished and despairing. We cry out into the darkness: "What can we to do?"
We can first say, "no."
No to violence against girls. No to girls' bodies as battlefields upon which men seek to dominate land, natural resources and each other. No to forced early marriage, early pregnancies, and HIV/AIDS contracted through rape. No to illiteracy which prevents over 500 million girls from raising their voices and realizing their dreams.
But there must be a next step to no. Robert Frost once said that he wrote his poems to show what he was "for," not what he was "against." Let's say yes to the power we all have, each and every one of us, to counteract the evil.
Yes to criminalizing sexualized violence in every respect, whether in the home or in a conflict area. Yes to new laws preventing child marriage, and yes to new laws to end genital mutilation. Yes to the highest forms of punishment for child traffickers. Yes to supporting organizations working on the ground with girls who live in the most marginalized ways. Yes to being proactive in educating ourselves about the atrocities women and girls face around the world and to broadcasting this information, never turning a blind eye.
Yes to access as a new currency for freedom for every girl in the world.
Yes to ensuring that every girl will have access to all she needs to learn to read so two thirds of the world's illiterate will no longer be women and girls. Yes to ensuring the power of girls' own stories are not only heard, but are put on record by girls themselves. Yes to disrupting the old idea of school as the only way to learn to read. Technology, from phones to tablets, can change the face of global education in ways we haven't yet imagined, in ways that could put thousands of books in every girl's hands instantly. In this way girls could learn wherever they are: side-by-side with their mothers, or in the company of trusted peers.
In a pilot program co-led by my organization, LitWorld, and Global Girl Rising, girls use mobile phones in the Kibera slum in Nairobi to prepare for their exams. These phones, gateways to communication and information, allow them to study late into the night, with the comfort and community of their trusted ones nearby. Let's say yes to the mobility of education.
Literacy empowers us to use our voices to make change in the world. By reading, we absorb the world. By writing, we give back to the world the stories of our own that will change it. Yes to LitWorld's girls' LitClubs that meet around the world, sometimes in secret, to read together and write together. They are portable, they are nimble, they give voice to the girls' lives. They do not depend upon school.
Let's listen to the stories of girls' experiences in a way that will truly make change feel real for them. From the global level to national to state to local to one's life in the home, we can tell a new story by saying no fiercely, and by saying yes to creating concrete change.
Social change starts with our voices. Say yes to supporting a generation of girls who become educated, who can make their own hashtags to rally behind because they have the literacies to tell their own stories. They will use that power to reshape the narrative and make a more just world.
The writer Muriel Rukeyser wrote: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." Let's split the world open.