I have struggled with the question of whether to write anything at all about #BringBackOurGirls. I know Nigerian activists living in the country have been at the forefront of protests designed to put pressure on the Nigerian government to do the minimum that every responsible government needs to do: protect its citizens and preserve their inalienable human rights. In that context, what is the responsibility of everyone else?
What can I do to help?
In my view it is to reach out to those on the frontlines and say, “What can I do to help?” “Are the hashtags helpful or are we just creating noise?” “Should we march in solidarity?” And if we listen carefully, if we sieve through the cacophony on social media we can see responses from the likes of the Nigerian Feminist Forum expressing outrage with the insufficient response from the Nigerian government and army. We can tell that what Nigerian activists want is for their country to take action, and not for this situation to contribute to growing foreign militarism on the continent, and more importantly we can see that African women, African people and African communities are taking action to get their states to be responsible and do not need arguably ‘well meaning saviourists’ like Ramaa Mosley to jump on a plane to Chibok or for western NGOs to use #BringBackOurGirls as a rallying call for generic fundraising purposes.
By now the whole world (hopefully) is aware that 234 school girls were abducted from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, by Boko Haram, a politically motivated terrorist group which for years has been terrorizing communities throughout Northern Nigeria and its borders. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has gone viral with everyone from Michelle Obama – via her Instagram account posting a picture of herself holding a poster saying #BringBackOurGirls – through to Chris Brown tweeting #BringBackOurGirls. In moments like this, it’s the voice of celebrities and leaders in the global north that seems to rise within social media. And that’s something I struggle with.
I’ve also struggled with how to personally respond to #BringBackOurGirls. I have RT’d a couple of tweets that I could personally identify with. I have liked a Facebook album of Egyptian activists holding up signs that clearly state that there is nothing within Islam that sanctions the actions of groups like Boko Haram, and I am happy that some sisters in Ghana used (the American) mother’s day as an opportunity to go on a march as an act of solidarity with the abducted girls, their friends and family. If I was in Ghana right now that’s a march that I would go to. Not because I think that single action would #BringBackOurGirls, but because its important to show solidarity in moments like these.
Women as pawns
But I also have questions, thoughts and doubts that #BringBackOurGirls has brought to the surface of my mind. I think of the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls as part of the systemic use of girls and women as pawns during times of war. (In fact one can argue that women are permanently in a state of war because of the continuous state of violence against women including domestic violence and sexual exploitation.) And let’s be very clear, parts of Northern Nigeria are in a state of extreme conflict. In June 2013, when my colleagues and I visited Nigeria as part of AWDF’s regular monitoring visit to our grantee partners what we heard over and over again from activists was ‘2015’. ‘2015’ was shorthand for the concern that activists have about the lead up to Nigeria’s next presidential elections. Activists in 2013 were already describing the tension they could feel in the country because of the forthcoming presidential elections. Some of our grantee partners advised us not to conduct any monitoring visits to Nigeria in 2015. Others made comments like, “if we survive 2015 then we can survive anything”. Clearly the stakes for Nigeria’s highest political office are extremely high, and in that high stakes battle the most vulnerable suffer. Those without political power and clout, those who are seen as dispensable, and very often those are women and girls.