Three weeks ago, when the first news dribbled in about how 276 Nigerian schoolgirls had been abducted, as they slept, I felt a weak combination of shock and revulsion. It was that vague, detached awareness, an "uh-oh something bad is kicking off," in that National Geographic part of the world. How unlikely such grand scale, human larceny would be tolerated in the UK or the U.S.? As the days have ticked by, and as a mother of five daughters, I also couldn't understand why this story wasn't mainstream.
Before this incident, I'd never heard of Boko Haram. I thought I'd misheard it for Procol Harum, the seminal band from the late 1960s, whose "Whiter Shade of Pale," with their lyrics about sixteen vestal virgins, runs through my adolescent awakenings.
I've done some research and now know that Boko Haram is a veritable harum-scarum. Loosely translated, the Boko version means "Western Education is sinful" and these kidnappings represent their crudely, violent method for stopping women being educated. Digging further into the "Whiter Shade of Pale" song, it turns out that vestal virgins, of which there were actually only six, were handpicked annually to be high priestesses. They were educated, drew salaries and enjoyed power and influence, provided they kept a fire going...oh, and didn't have sex. Their thirty year long and strictly imposed chastity was thought to be linked to the continuation and security of Rome. Power, money, sex and access to education, inextricably intertwined since around 717 B.C.,plus ça change.
Today, the front page of the London Times, carries a picture of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban because she wanted to be educated. She has spoken in her quiet, articulate fashion of her support for #BringBackOurGirls. The UK and the U.S. are leading the charge, asserting their stand on the situation these vulnerable girls face. I may have missed the coverage, but I haven't noticed any search parties on their way from other countries. What does the rest of the world think or have to say? It's pretty clear how the deck is stacked, but given the advancing outcry, what does this really say about women's treatment in modern society, globally? It says that educated women are still a terrifying concept. And every single woman reading this, who has ever experienced the benefits of a western education, ought to be calling for the world to find these daughters, these girls and these educated women of the future, our collective future.
On the news last night, they showed the names of the kidnapped girls. As they scrolled down through the list of lost girls, my eye caught the name, Ruth. Solid, biblical, something I could relate to. Then, I saw this name, Blessing. It means protection, grace, sanction, advantage. It seems Blessing is well and truly lost.
So, I sat down and wrote this blog. From where most of us sit, what else can we do? Silence is the strongest source of denial. Germaine Greer recently said "Men are now more aware of women because women keep pushing themselves in...it would seem to me they are even less tolerant than they were before". And Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted thus: "If you're going to say that the world has to be different, not everyone is going to agree with you, but the only way we create change is by having these conversations and having them loudly."
Sheryl was talking about leaning in and Germaine was talking about pushing in but the emphasis on doing what's right remains the same. So start by caring. Start talking, tweeting, blogging, preaching, callling MP's, Congress people and keep caring.
Even the boys are starting to kick up a fuss... Ladies, time to make some noise.