While the rest of the country was up in arms about the blatant racism of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, an atrocity occurred a world away. In Nigeria, an extremist anti-Western group called Boko Haram abducted roughly 275 girls age 16 to 18 from school. Boko Haram loosely translates to "Western education is forbidden." The girls had been sleeping overnight at their school as they were preparing for final exams when the militant group arrived in 60 vehicles and kidnapped the girls. That this atrocity has been reported with far less frequency and fervency than the Donald Sterling scandal I will set aside for the moment. Because what matters now is what people like you and me can do to help.
What's happened has been called an "unconscionable crime" by Secretary of State John Kerry. Secretary Kerry just the other day made a statement pledging the United States' support to the Nigerian government in terms of resources and intelligence (though not boots on the ground). And that's a good first step. But it's important to frame this kidnapping atrocity within a some broader contexts:
First of all, this atrocity exemplifies a continued rejection of western education of girls by Muslim extremists. This is not a new narrative -- you have likely already heard of the brave 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala, who stood up for girls' education to the Taliban, and was shot in the head (she has survived and now is an activist for the education of girls).
Second, this event takes place while the world is coming to grips with a broader reality -- women and girls are treated like second-class citizens all over the world, certainly in the developing world, but additionally in the United States. Not only are the abductors holding the girls hostage, they may also sell them as sex slaves. Human trafficking and sex slavery is a part of the ugly underbelly of the human story these days. According to the United Nations, around 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking at any given moment, and most females that fall victim to human trafficking become sex slaves and forced prostitutes.
So when I see an atrocity like this happen in the world, I'm maddened. I'm maddened that there are so many places in the world where girls and women are not safe. I'm angered that it took the U.S. State Department nearly three weeks to officially respond with an offer of assistance to the Nigerian government. And it frustrates me that the mainstream media continues to sensationalize and glorify "junk food" stories while real news such as this mass kidnapping goes grossly under-reported.
I'm not the type of man to soak in anger and not do anything. And now that you are aware of what's happened in Nigeria, you probably want to convert that anger into action too. One of the healthiest things we can do as human beings is to take the intensity of anger and channel it constructively and positively.
So for the remainder of this piece, I want to talk about what you as a global citizen can do to help with this atrocity. Because that's the human instinct in a time like this -- to want to help, even if you and I are both worlds away from these girls, both in terms of geographic distance and in terms of the society we inhabit.
First and foremost, the U.S. government can put more pressure on the Nigerian government. The Nigerian military already falsely boasted that the girls had been rescued, in a blatant (and patently dishonest) attempt to claim victory over Boko Haram that is part of a broader trend of exaggerations on the part of their military. And as citizens of the U.S., you and I can certainly reach out to the channels of power in Washington to express our concern about this fragile situation. Contact the president, contact your congressmen, and reach out to the State Department to express your concern. Over 86,000 U.S. citizens have signed a petition to the White House to assist more substantively in bringing the girls home and their perpetrators to justice. Once the petition reaches 100,000 citizens, the White House must by law respond to the petition. I recommend you sign.
Second, this is an opportunity for you as a global citizen to express tolerance. Yes, the kidnappers were part of a Muslim extremist group. It's not the first time that a small faction of extremist Muslims has upended life for girls and women around the world, or even for American citizens. But you and I must remember that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people who are just as horrified about this atrocity as you and me (and perhaps more, given their concerns about backlash against others of their community). So I call on you to continue leading with an open heart towards Muslims in your community and around the world. The actions of Boko Haram do not reflect the goals and intentions of the vast majority of Muslims.
Third, this is a time for you to note that the fight for girl's empowerment and girl's education is a serious one, with powerful and entrenched interests seeking the continued subjugation of women and girls around the world. Boko Haram is nothing more than an outgrowth of fear of what an empowered woman means for society. Educated women make between 10 to 20 percent more income for every additional year of schooling they have. Educated women are more likely to avoid child marriage, and are less likely to be victims of HIV/AIDS or sexual abuse, this horrible occurrence not withstanding. And educated girls and women reinvest up to 90 percent of money they earn in their families, which helps to break the generational cycle of poverty. Empowered women scare entrenched reactionary interests because they know that empowered women means those interests will have to change their archaic ways.
I don't know what the appropriate action for the U.S. government is in response to the kidnapping. I won't advocate for military troops because I'm not an expert, and I don't want to claim false expertise (though the military did intervene against Kony -- and it may be appropriate here). But if at the end of this post, you decide to communicate your feelings regarding this atrocity to your congresspeople, then I will be grateful. And if you take this news as a reminder that women and girls around the world need champions, then I will be grateful.
Girls around the world are mistreated in other horrible ways -- female genital cutting, for example, is a horrific practice that afflicts even women born on the U.S. The most important thing you can do is continue the conversation -- or start it -- regarding how women need to be treated as equals both in the United States and around the world.
You might not be able to bring back the girls kidnapped in Nigeria with your support now, but you can ensure that the world takes preventive steps to ensure that women and girls are protected, empowered, and educated -- fearlessly -- around the world. Keep talking about girls' empowerment. Keep the media honest. Keep your government honest. And don't be afraid to bring up the cause in conversation... you'll find there are billions of allies all around you.