About 50 days on, the girls have still not been rescued. The world is on tenterhooks, seemingly out of ideas about what to do to rescue the innocent souls while Boko Haram remains on the loose, abducting, killing, looting and destroying. How long the parents of these girls have to wait to receive them in their arms is anyone’s guess. In any case, the world, to a man, woman, boy and girl, is united in its condemnation of Boko Haram.
The Boko Haram view on Western education is shortsighted and out of sync. Their views on girls’ education is laughable and the abduction of the girls is highly detestable and condemnable. And we are all justified to condemn their action as unIslamic, anti-Islam and gross violation of the fundamental rights of the girls. Our abhorrence, and the depth of our compassion, are being put to the test by our willingness, or the lack of it, to take action against Boko Haram and bring back our girls. We have the resources and Nigeria and the world have the military might to bring back our girls. Unfortunately, 50 days on, the fate of the girls is still unclear.
Although Boko Haram’s uncalled-for action and the subsequent #Bring Back Our Girls# campaign brought attention to the plight of the young Nigerian girls, it doesn’t appear interested in asking the difficult questions. There is much more to the kidnapping of the girls than the campaign is willing to address.
For me, the action of Boko Haram raises some very fundamental and nagging questions, and answers to which would require some soul-searching and acceptance of some home truth. While Boko Haram’s uncalled-for action may have brought the searchlight closer to these questions, they have always been there, unanswered and ignored because society (interpreted men folk) have found them to be unimportant. The questions relate to the fundamental rights of girls, the premium we put on their education and contribution to the larger development of society and family, the value we place on them as human beings, and the respect we give them or accord to their views. I am tempted to ask these questions, rhetorical though:
Where do girls truly fit in our scheme of things – in our political, social, educational, cultural and administrative structures and processes? Don’t we regard them merely as cogs in the turning wheels of our customs and traditions? Are they at the top of the totem pole, pathway down or at the bottom? Do their place in society gives them any opportunity to sway or influence what takes place? Do we generally accept that they have rights, are equal to boys in rights, dignity and respect and should have equal opportunities as boys?
Boko Haram thinks, and wrongly so, that the abducted girls, and may be all girls, are only fit or suitable for marriage. But honestly, is this view, unfortunate as it is, not shared by some of us men, even if these men are in the minority? Many of us still believe that the girl’s place is at home to look after her younger siblings, to assist her mother in the domestic chores, to be prepared for marriage and be schooled in the art of looking after a husband and children. Her role in life and society are prescribed: to be a wife, a mother, a bearer of children, the comforter and the nurse. No more. Education, or its acquisition, is for those whose role it is to provide for the family, the male children. The girl’s lot is marriage, early marriage. It does not matter if her body is not developmentally prepared to carry through a pregnancy. It does not matter still if she is only a child who would have to bring forth another child. This is the life that society, our society, has ordained for her. And who would dare change the dictates of society?
Those girls who are fortunate to go to school do not often pass beyond the secondary level. Early marriage, early motherhood and life of discrimination, abuse and missed or truncated opportunities are the tragic lots of some of these girls, our sisters. The fate of those who have never seen the inside of a classroom are grimmer. Their lack of access to education and their low status in society serve to perpetuate their devaluation. With no life chance, the bulk of this number find themselves on the fringes of society- marginalized, ill-skilled, less healthy, ill-equipped to partake in development, with limited choices and an uncertain future.
Can these societies of ours then neglect the education of “its other half?” Can these beautiful countries of ours sideline the contribution of girls and women in its development drive, as of less consequence and value? Can we succeed as nations when girls and women, because of lack of education, take a backseat? There is always a fundamental difference, in any society or community, between the possessors of education and those who lack such control. Power would belong to those who can formulate and grasp ideas. The person who lacks education is bound to be the slave of others. That person would not be able to actively participate in decisions that affect his or her life or in discussions that would shape the destinies of his or her countries and communities.
Thus, if education is the first motive power that sets in motion the latent faculties of human beings that enables them, in the long run, to understand their place in the society. If our collective desire is to create an Africa that is healthy, wealthy and strong, then educating our girls should become a major continental and national priority. In these immortal words of Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general, should lie the basis for our emphasis on girls’ education: “… there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health, including helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS….”
To ensure girls’ education we need to create a culture of non-discrimination, equity, solidarity and social justice. We need a stronger culture of respect for the rights of girls, stronger policies and infrastructure to ensure girls are enrolled and retained in schools. We must break down the cycle of harmful traditions and prejudices against girls. We must ensure that a girl’s life cycle does not become a vicious cycle, where the evolution from childhood to adulthood is blighted by fatalism and a sense of inferiority. We must change attitudes, alter customs and abandon myths that engender the violation of the rights of girls or impede their quest to reach their maximum potentials in life. The entire social, cultural, educational, economical and political structures may need to undergo changes. Above all, we must interrogate and redefine the term ‘culture’ since it is often the smokescreen that men hide behind to perpetuate violations and discrimination against girls, or to simply deny their rights.
If we truly believe that ‘when we educate a girl, we educate a nation’, then it is high time we envisioned a comprehensive strategy to protect and promote the rights of girls. If we truly agree that ‘women hold half the sky’, then we must begin to listen to their voices intently and with respect, value their work and contribution to society and family, respect, protect and fulfil the rights of girls and take a stance against all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. If our nations are to benefit from the equal and total contribution of men and women in the development progress; if both men and women are to put their abilities, thoughts and faculties in the direction of the State, we must put a certain high premium on the education of all girls. There is no other option.
By Njundu Drammeh
Njundu Drammeh is the programme coordinator of Child Protection Alliance, The Gambia.]]>