When news of the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria broke over four weeks ago, we, as the CAL Secretariat were deeply concerned. We were, and we still are concerned because this gross violation of human and children’s rights is proof of the degree that hegemonic patriarchal power manifests itself and especially on female bodies. We are concerned because as feminists and human rights defenders, this act, and the slow nature in which the Nigerian government has chosen to respond to this crisis is indicative of just how little women and girls’ lives matter, to majority male governments and oppressive male militia and military bodies. We are concerned because this issue is a microcosm of a bigger problem-commodification of female bodies and devaluation of female/feminine importance. We have asked, on Social Media-What Are Women’s Lives Worth?
Another reality worth considering is that girls and women go missing everywhere, and all the time. There are thousands of unaccounted for incidences where girl children have gone missing and these incidences go unreported. Sometimes for years and many time unresolved. In our daily newspapers we see a majority of girls and women reported missing, with little to nothing done by authorities to investigate these issues. Many patriarchal cultural constructions accord more importance to boy children than they do to girl children. This means that some families are least likely to report missing girl children than they are to report missing boy children. The same is said for women, as compared to men. Girls and women, today, still lie at the bottom of the social totem, and this recent turn of events in Nigeria shows that there is a deeper and urgent need for our governments, our communities and society as a whole to give female bodies the same importance that male bodies are often given.
Some statistics out of America (unfortunately these are the only extensive statistics that could be found) show as follows:
• An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children
• The federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. This means that in 2001, over 790, 000 children were reported missing.
• Two-thirds of the nearly 800 000 victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are [white] females, according to a Justice Department study. This means that 80% of the abducted children were girls.
• Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.
This is important because, America is putting pressure and offering military help to find the nearly 250 missing school girls in Nigeria, while they too have a crisis going on as far as missing girl children go. With the current state of affairs between Nigeria and America, especially with regard to the rights of gender non-conforming and non-heteronormative African women and men, this offer, and indeed pressure from the American government, might do more harm than good. And this situation furthermore creates military and military related tensions on a continent rife with militarism and militant oppression-from both State and rebel actors.
In a recently published article in The Guardian, Jumoke Balogun writes: ‘Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria. It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care. Here’s the thing though, when you pressure western powers, particularly the American government, to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good. You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa. Africom (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls.’ This is a worthwhile article-do read it when you get the time to.
As a feminist collective, it is important that we speak to this issue, but more importantly, it is essential that we shift conversations, and shape dialogues around bigger and wider issues, to prevent, or at best attempt to prevent recurrence of such atrocities. We have to hold our governments, tasked with our protection, accountable for our safety and the safety of our children whether they inhabit female or male bodies.
CAL would like to plan some action(s) that bring attention to these multiple, overlapping issues: issues of bodily autonomy, militarism, safety and security; issues of femicide, and the girl child and education; issues of accountability and governance. They all intersect and they all need a voice. This cannot be seen as a once-off, occurrence-there is a bigger picture here, and this conversation has to go on.
We welcome your thoughts on this-and any suggestions on future continued action around this are welcome.
Please send suggested actions to firstname.lastname@example.org
The struggle continues. We still hope and wish for the safe return of the stolen school girls back to their homes and families. We demand that justice prevails for these girls and all the other thousands of abducted and stolen girls and women on the continent.
-Sheena Gimase Magenya