It's back-to-school time - but not for the girls of Chibok

Uniform, check. Notebook, check. Pens and pencils, check. A familiar back-to-school routine as the new academic year begins around the world. But what about the girls who were kidnapped five months ago from their school in Chibok?

When Boko Haram members broke into a school in northern Nigeria and drove away with 276 girls, they made it clear that they don't believe girls and women deserve the opportunities an education opens up, and that they will intervene with drastic measures to ensure girls don't get one.

There's been lots of speculation, but we still don't know where the 219 missing girls are, or when they're coming home. Daughters, sisters and friends - including Deborah, Hauwa, Gloria, Kummai and Ruth - are still missing. When Nigerian schools open for the new school year, a delayed start due to the ongoing Ebola outbreak, many fear the Chibok tragedy will deter even more girls from going to school - girls who need the opportunities that an education brings. Without safe access to education, the cycle of poverty will continue.


After the girls were taken, millions of people called for their safe return on Twitter, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. More than 150 days later, use of the hashtag has waned and the girls are still not home. But this does not mean that people have stopped campaigning for the girls of Chibok and for their safe return.

Protestors in Nigeria have continued to publicly mark the number of days since the girls' capture by distributing flyers and educating the public, while Nigerian former education minister Oby Ezekwesili has urged: "We cannot afford to move on without our daughters. Everyone who can raise a voice to compel action for them should really do so."

Malala Yousafzai has been campaigning strongly since the girls were kidnapped. She visited Nigeria in July to meet some of the girls' families, and during her visit Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan gave his word that his government would "choose the best option to bring girls back alive and safe". She's since met with the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to stress again the need for action: "Even though people are highlighting it on Twitter, no one is really helping these girls."

Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for global education, raised the issue again this month, when he referred to the past few months as the summer of the child refugee: "Schools, like hospitals, are supposed to be oases of peace, and yet schools have been targeted by all sides as instruments of war… We must send a message after this summer of infamy and carnage that these attacks on children are crimes against humanity."


Nigeria is home to the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. The majority of them are girls, now joined by more than 200 from Chibok. In some states, conflict has destroyed a quarter of schools and a third of girls are out of education completely. "Nigeria's - and its children's - future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option," says Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

To benefit from an education, girls need to be safe at school. They need to be protected and know that they won't become a casualty of conflict simply because they want to learn. US journalist Nick Kristof believes: "The best tool to fight extremism is education, especially of girls - and that means ensuring that it is safe to study. The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones, but from girls with schoolbooks."

In response to the kidnappings, a new initiative was launched in May at the World Economic Forum on Africa. The Safe Schools Initiative, set up by Nigerian business leaders, working with Gordon Brown, the Global Business Coalition for Education and A World at School, is a programmatic response to protect Nigerian schools and prevent further attacks. Interventions, including school security plans and reinforced school infrastructure, are currently being rolled out across 500 schools in northern Nigeria, with more to follow. Girls should immediately start to feel safer at school with a range of emotional support tools, including safety officers and regular visits from trained counsellors.

School should be a safe place, simple as that. The Safe Schools Initiative is one programme working to make a new school year exciting, and not scary, for girls in Nigeria. But it's only one step in a long journey to ensuring all Nigerian girls can walk into a classroom with confidence - confidence to claim their right to an education, and confidence that those who oppose this right won't take it away.

Every girl in Nigeria deserves to go to school. If you agree show your support by signing the A World At School petition right now.