Written by Zainab Khan and Paula Kweskin
Eighteen-year-old Deborah Sanya went to school to take her final exams before graduation. She never expected what happened next: a mass kidnapping of her and over 200 of her fellow students. Deborah and her three friends are some of the lucky ones; they bravely ran when one of the kidnappers wasn’t looking, found refuge in a local village, and eventually made it home.
Four weeks later, there is no trace of her friends.
Islamic militants known, as Boko Haram, are believed to be behind the kidnapping of the girls from their school in Chibok. The literal translation of this radical, extremist terrorist group means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language.
The group is fueled by the ideology that Western influences have corrupted their society and a pure Islamic state can restore the country of Nigeria. The group wants to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in Africa’s most populous and economically developing country.
Boko Haram is one of the most dangerous manifestations of the global resurgence of radical Islam. It utilizes brutal, violent, inhumane tactics to force a skewed, political ideology upon innocent people.
Since 2002, it has claimed thousands of lives through attacks on Christians, school children, and government targets.
The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, warned in a video obtained in March that all students should leave universities and girls are to drop out of school to get married.
“In Islam, it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves,” Shekau said. “In due course, we will start taking women away.”
And this is precisely what was done.
Civilian victims targeted by these insurgents are frequently women and girls. The concept of “Western education” being deemed as dangerous is nothing new because the education of women and girls is an affront to the twisted ideologies of these terrorists.
Malala Yousufzai, the poster child for girls’ education globally, was shot on October 9th, 2012 by the Taliban en route to school. She, like her sisters, in Nigeria,‘dared’ to demand an education and to lift herself out of poverty.
For these terrorists, there is nothing more intimidating.
Educated women and girls are the agents of change in their communities and an indicator of progress and enlightenment. As such, they are the first targets for extremist groups.
Reports have indicated some of the abducted girls have been sold as brides to soldiers for $12, and some were forcefully converted to Islam.
It is horrifying to imagine what these innocent girls are undergoing. They have been captured and sold into sexual slavery in a practice reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
The Nigerian people are now on the battleground of two ideologies: one which views their women and girls as seeds of peace and harbingers of a better future; and the other, an extreme ideology of hate and oppression which views women as chattel to be sold and used, abused and discarded at will.
After the girls were taken in Chibok, Nigeria, their school was burned to the ground. The flames consumed their books, papers, and end of year exams. Their actions were clear: education, especially of girls, should be destroyed.
How will our voices respond?
Learn more about the oppression women face in honor-based societies. Watch Honor Diaries, a film featuring Zainab Khan and eight other courageous women’s rights advocates in a dialogue about gender inequality in Muslim majority countries.
Cover Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman, Flickr Creative Commons