One year ago this week, 276 girls in the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok were taken from their school by Islamist insurgents as they were sitting their final exams – 219 of those girls are still missing. They’ve missed hundreds of classes, countless pieces of homework and hours of building relationships with their classmates and teachers. The impact on their families has been unimaginable.
After the kidnapping on 14 April 2014, it took several days for the news to filter out on social media. But after it did, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign went viral, trending worldwide, boosted by celebrity involvement from figures such as Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Madonna. While clicktivism sceptics questioned the impact a single, simple hashtag could have on rescue efforts, the campaign created global awareness around the need for girls to receive an education safely.
“The common cause of all these attacks, which are very different in nature, is deeply entrenched discrimination against women and girls."
Sadly, it took a tragic mass abduction to shine a light on a crisis that is far more widespread than many realise. A World At School reports that attacks on schools are at their highest level in 40 years, and the situation is getting out of control, especially for girls. A UN report in February found that in the past five years, attacks specifically targeting girls in education were occurring with “increasing regularity”.
While the one-year anniversary of the events at Chibok gives us 219 reasons to care about girls’ education in Nigeria, the evidence from around the world reminds us more must be done to ensure girls have secure access to education: from an alleged poisoning of girls in the north of Afghanistan to girls in Kabul dressing as boys just to attend. In India, 20 masked men abducted and raped four girls at a Christian school in the village of Labda two years ago. These are just the incidents that have been reported.
“The common cause of all these attacks, which are very different in nature, is deeply entrenched discrimination against women and girls,” says the UN’s Veronica Birga. The victims and survivors of these attacks are not the only ones affected. When girls are targeted specifically, parents and communities come to believe that schools are not safe places for girls, so they take them out of education.
Last week, an appeal was launched by the UN in Nigeria, asking for more funding to support the many girls and boys who are being deprived of an education because of the continuing violence.
However, organisations and individuals are working hard to address this stark situation. In its report, the UN recommended the following:
- Look at patterns of violence against girls
- Devote more money to helping ensure girls can go to school without the threat of violence
- Promote the benefits that universal access to education has for society as a whole
Some programmes are paving the way for a more secure future. Safe spaces have been established in northern Nigeria with 70 out-of-school girls, giving them independence, aspiration and all the information they need to fulfil their potential. Other solutions providing alternatives to regular schooling, including UNESCO’s Mobile-Based Literacy Programme in Pakistan and underground schools in Afghanistan, have also been set up.
We know of the benefits of a girl getting an education. It’s not just her who prospers: by staying in education beyond primary school, a girl typically grows up to marry later, have fewer children and have them later. Her children grow up healthier and are more likely to go to school themselves. Having girls stay in school for longer increases a country’s GDP, making the whole nation better off.
While the world demands the return of the Chibok girls, their fate remains unknown. But for girls worldwide, we know what needs to be done. Let’s not wait for another tragedy of this scale to shock us into action.