In April 2014, #BringBackOurGirls sparked an emotional worldwide outcry for the return of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in Chibok, Nigeria by extremist group Boko Haram.
Of the 276 missing Chibok schoolgirls, only 51 have escaped, while others have become prisoners, child brides or slaves. Today, Nigerian authorities are still searching for the girls, but sadly, it is unknown how many of them are still alive.
While the Chibok schoolgirl kidnapping has deservedly received worldwide media attention, other victims of Boko Haram have been overlooked and forgotten. It is estimated that Boko Haram has killed nearly 20,000 people and abducted 2,000 others – including boys and men. Furthermore, 500,000 refugees have fled into neighboring countries, and nearly 2.3 million people have been internally displaced due to their activities.
In fact, one of Boko Haram’s biggest victims is the education system in northeast Nigeria, where some schools have been closed for nearly 3 years, denying children their right to learn.
A group waging war on western education
According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has destroyed more than 910 schools and forced at least 1,500 more to close. At least 611 teachers have been killed and another 19,000 forced to flee.
Reasons for the terrorist group’s intolerance toward education – particularly girls’ education – stem from a long history of resistance to formalized education in some parts of northeastern Nigeria. Throughout history, many communities have opposed western education because they perceive it as an attempt to convert their religious beliefs.
Although these communities tend to be more patriarchal than the rest of Nigeria, and might not prioritize women’s economic opportunities or girls’ access to education, it’s important to remember that Boko Haram is an extreme example of religious ideology – their radical viewpoints on the roles of girls and women are shared by very few Nigerians.
Why girls need an education now more than ever
Globally, more than 62 million girls are not in school, and violence (or the threat of violence) is one of the factors keeping them from obtaining an education.
In Nigeria, education could help bridge the gap between men and women, particularly in northern Nigeria which has the highest rates of child marriage and the lowest rates of school enrolment for girls in the country – only 20% of women and girls are literate and have attended school.
Despite the obstacles girls face in getting to school, we know that when a girl is educated, she:
• Will increase her income and provide for her family
• Will marry later, and have fewer, yet healthier, children
• Will be less likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth complications
• Will uplift herself and everyone around her.
Working toward gender equality
In the northern state of Bauchi, where migrants are fleeing the devastation caused by Boko Haram, Plan International is currently working to promote women’s and children’s rights, increase enrolment of girls in school, and provide women with access to safe maternal healthcare.
We believe that girls deserve every opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty. If you feel the same, help us create a brighter future for girls in developing countries.