Action Alert

Bring Back Our Girls, Bring Back Peace

Bring Back Our Girls, Bring Back Peace
First Lady Michelle Obama holding a sign with the hashtag "#bringbackourgirls."

Last December, when most of us were counting down to the holidays, families in Nigeria continued to count the days for another reason.

On December 5, it had been 600 days since 276 Nigerian schoolgirls from Chibok were kidnapped. According to the campaign Bring Back Our Girls, 200 are still missing.

In April 2014, these girls were kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram and forced into marriage and servitude to its members. Though this was the largest single abduction carried out by this group, these 15- to 18-year-old girls from Chibok are among many that have been taken.

Boko Haram has abducted approximately 2,000 girls and women. According to Amnesty International, this number is likely even higher, but reports from eyewitnesses and the governments of the afflicted regions have not been forthcoming.

Since 2013, Boko Haram has been trafficking unmarried girls and women to the group’s established territories in northeast Nigeria. When they arrive, the girls and women are subjected to forced marriage, forced labor and sexual assault.

Though the days since the girls’ kidnapping continue to pass by, the media focus has shifted away from the event, and Boko Haram still remains a threat to the region’s civilians.

Why Girls?

Women and girls are the most vulnerable to trafficking around the world. About 20.9 million people, of whom 55 percent are women and girls, are trafficked worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons 2015 report. Exact statistics on child, early and forced marriages are not available, but an estimated 15 million girls are married every year before they turn 18.

Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for trafficking, meaning women and girls are trafficked from, to and through Nigeria for forced labor or sexual exploitation. While there are many factors that could lead to the trafficking of women and girls, living in conflict areas is one factor that increases their vulnerability to traffickers.

According to the United Nations, “Although entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex. Parties in conflict situations often rape women, sometimes using systematic rape as a tactic of war. Other forms of violence against women committed in armed conflict include murder, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced sterilization.”

This has been true of the conflict between Boko Haram and the affected countries. The forced marriages have been thought to be a part of Boko Haram’s plan to create an Islamic state.

“Part of it is that their stated goal was to create essentially an Islamic state,” Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations said, “and presumably at least some of the girls that were kidnapped were to be building blocks in that effort.”

The Movement to Bring Back Our Girls

The movement began in 2014 with a hashtag: #bringbackourgirls. Since then, this social awareness campaign has taken to Facebook and Twitter in order to bring more attention to the missing schoolgirls from Chibok. As the international community pushes for government action via social media, people in the affected regions have marched, rallied and advocated for the girls’ return since their abduction.

With the coalition of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, local security forces have fought to push Boko Haram out of its captured territory in northeast Nigeria. However, this push has long been mired in human rights violations.

According to an Amnesty International report, Nigerian forces have made arbitrary mass arrests and detained civilians, often without any proof of their involvement with Boko Haram. Once detained, civilians were not given trials and did not have access to medical or legal services. Due to ill treatment, torture and bad conditions, thousands have died in detainment, and an unknown number have been executed without a trial.

As Boko Haram is pushed back, some of those captured have been left behind and thus freed. In May, about 300 women and children were freed in one military operation.

“Now with no territory, it becomes very difficult to hold the literally hundreds — and I suspect more than a thousand people — that [Boko Haram] had kidnapped over the years, so that as it has withdrawn, it has either left its kidnapped victims in place, or in some cases, has murdered them,” Campbell said.

After a new president, General Muhammadu Buhari, took office in May 2015, the Nigerian government is now trying a new strategy. The Nigerian government has offered to release certain Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the Chibok girls. So far, an agreement has not been reached with the terrorist group. However, Chibok girls may have been dispersed and could be difficult for either party to track down.

The United States has pledged to send military trainers to help the Nigerian army with its intelligence gathering and tactics. In September 2015, President Barack Obama also gave the secretary of state authority to provide logistical, equipment and airlift support to the affected region, as well as to continue to advise countries on victim support and countering violent extremism programming.

Of course, women and girls are not solely victims of conflict; they are also part of the solution. According to the United Nations, “[Women] assume the key role of ensuring family livelihood in the midst of chaos and destruction, and are particularly active in the peace movement at the grassroots level, cultivating peace within their communities.”

Nigerian women have led the call to return the girls and, as those most directly affected, are an important voice for their government to hear. Former minister of education Obiageli Ezekwesili catalyzed the Bring Back Our Girls movement into a national and international campaign. She has since become a spokeswoman for the Chibok girls around the world.

Other young women and girls have become Chibok girl ambassadors, speaking to government officials, the press and the public on behalf of the missing girls. According Maryam Ahmed, leader of the Chibok girl ambassadors, girls across Nigeria know it could have been them and have been rallying to rescue the Chibok girls and give them a chance to complete their educations.

“Many other girls like me across the country are equally outraged and heartbroken over the issue of the abduction of these girls,” Ahmed said. “We see ourselves in the girls, and we can’t imagine having our hopes and our dreams crushed overnight.”

The group has also held street marches, rallies and sit-outs across Nigeria. In addition to raising public awareness and holding the government responsible, members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement visit and volunteer at internally displaced persons camps where people whose towns and homes were destroyed by Boko Haram have been living.  

As the United Nations noted, women play an important role in the peace movement at the grassroots level. Bring Back Our Girls activists have already met with the new Nigerian president and are planning to keep the pressure on the government.

Pressure is also coming from the international community. People like First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, a young advocate for girls’ education, have been particularly effective at raising public awareness and turning the girls’ abductions into a global campaign. In order to bring back the girls, the international community must continue to apply pressure on the region’s governments and their own governments, according to Ezekwesili.

Posted or updated: 1/15/2016 11:00:00 PM

Suggested Pages:

*Action Alerts

*Human Trafficking
 

Take Action:

  • Hold officials responsible by contacting the Nigerian Embassy at 202-986-8400 and ask them what they are doing to bring back our girls.
  • Renew the call and remind the media, your community, your representatives and the world about the 2,000 women and girls who are still missing.
  • Mobilize by joining rallies and starting your own. Go to the Bring Back Our Girls’ Facebook page for more information at, or contact the group to learn how to start your own rally at info@bringbackourgirls.us
  • Contact your state representatives and ask them to put pressure on the Nigerian government. Meet your Congressional representatives in your district or contact them through the Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121. Urge them to support the following bills:
    • The bill to require a regional strategy to address the threat posed by Boko Haram (H.R.3833/S.1632), which would require a five-year plan to help Nigeria and its forces combat Boko Haram and help the vulnerable populations affected.
    • Boko Haram Disarmament and Northeast Nigeria Recovery Act of 2015 (H.R.2027) requires the White House to come up with a strategy to eliminate the threat to civilians, ensure full humanitarian access to the affected populations and liberate Boko Haram’s kidnapping victims.
    • International Violence Against Women Act of 2015 (H.R.1340/S.713) would fund programs to achieve international gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as create a global strategy to combat violence against women and girls.

Learn More:

Join the United Methodist Women’s Action Network.
Contact the Washington Office of Public Policy at: csadc@unitedmethodistwomen.org
 
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