It has been over 6 months since Boko Haram rolled into a school in Chibok, northern Nigeria, rounded approximately 300 teenage girls into trucks, set the school on fire, then drove into a forest and disappeared.
The abduction prompted international outrage and a viral #bringbackourgirls twitter campaign. Many people sought to pressure the Nigerian government to do more to help find the missing children.
Although the media campaign for the return of the girls was well intentioned and created significant awareness, the girls have not been found. Whilst some of them managed to escape, many families are still in limbo. They are wondering if and when their daughters will be coming home. It seems crazy that the government have not yet rescued the girls; despite a world of Scandal style secret intelligence officers, military surveillance and supposedly doing all they can to bring them back. We must keep up our prayers and fight for their return.
And even if these girls do return, and I hope they do soon, the tragedy is far from over. In a country where only 11% of females finish secondary school and girls make up approximately 60% of the 77 million children not in education, Boko Haram is not the only problem. In some societies within Nigeria, it is believed that females ought not to work outside the home. There is an unwritten rule that says women can chose to be either housewives or develop their personal goals – but not both. In some areas, females who chose to pursue ambitious careers are ostracized and considered immodest and unwomanly. Statements such as “if you continue down that path you will never marry”, “don’t disgrace our home” and “know your place” are rife. Many young girls are forced out of school early and thrown into a life of servitude marriage with men who are old enough to be their grandfathers. Others are told that school is not a priority because they are female.
This is not to say that inadequate access to education always boil down to gender discrimination. One of the greatest factors hindering educational attainment within Nigeria is poverty. And poverty does not care about your gender. Another issue is illiteracy amongst parents and guardians. It is clear that the socio-economic status and educational viewpoint of a parent has a major effect on the development of the child. Indeed, the majority of educated Nigerian parents I know (both within the diaspora and back home) subscribe to a type of tiger style parenting where high achievement and investment in education is greatly encouraged – whether you are a boy or a girl. However, the fact that there are so many girls, especially in the northern states, not attending school demonstrates that gender bias is a problem. It is also evident that this problem is not as pertinent in the south of Nigeria as it is in the north. Studies show that 84% of poorest girls aged 7-16 years in the northwest have never been to school, compared to only 18% of children in the southeast. Evaluating who goes to school, who gets left behind and why is vital for strategic policymaking and for the future of the country.
We must bring to the forefront the gender issues that affect women in Nigeria. These challenges have a detrimental effect on the holistic growth of females, as well as on male development and the progress of the nation as a whole. The Nigerian government and society need to do more than #bringbackourgirls, they need to ensure that all our girls are given an equal opportunity to gain an education and make their own choices to excel – whether that be in the home, community, government or in the boardroom.
#goal: to write about something I’m passionate about.