This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
It took Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan eighteen days to set up a rescue committee to find the 276 girls who were kidnapped from their school last month.
Let’s say that one more time: it took the Nigerian government the better part of a month to respond to the violent kidnapping of girls who were just trying to get an education. Girls who, despite incredible poverty and a widespread cultural belief that girls should not go to school, got up every morning and went to where they hoped would be a safe space to learn.
“I am frustrated,” said one Nigerian activist and Global Fund for Women ally who requested anonymity. Many of her fellow activists are being detained and questioned by police for speaking out about the horrific crime. “The response has been slow, too little, too late, or none at all. Citizens are demanding information—basic, accurate information that will reassure the public that something tangible is being done about the attacks.”
As Nigeria hosts the World Economic Forum this month, seventy percent of the country’s predominantly Muslim population in the northeast lives on less than a dollar a day. To incentivize families to send their girls to school and keep them enrolled, women’s organizations and other NGOs pay families via conditional cash transfers that are used to pay school fees, according to our anonymous source. Women work hard to match girls with female role models who encourage them to continue their studies.
“This attack has come at a very fragile time when trust for the school as a safe space for girls was just being built,” said the Nigerian activist. “Families who traditionally do not believe in girls going to school will be less likely to see any benefits in sending their girls to school because of the stigma attached to rape and sexual violence.”
Reports of the kidnapped girls being forced to marry Boko Haram members are nothing new. Our source says Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, uses forced marriage, sexual violence and trafficking as weapons of intimidation.In a recent video, a man claiming to be the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, confirmed that Boko Haram had captured the girls and said he was going to “sell them in the marketplace.”