Nicolas Kristof has done us a great service in bringing to the nation’s (and world’s) attention the depraved and cowardly kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. All that “secular” learning. Boko Haram would rather conflate religion and the state, ensuring that women have no voice in society, confined to whatever influence their husbands allow them in their homes in the forced marriages into which they are sold in their early or mid-teens.
By diligently seeking “secular” education, the kidnapped girls were threatening the “righteous” theocracy that the terrorists wish to force on their society:
These girls, ages 15 to 18 and Christians and Muslims alike, knew the risks of seeking an education, and schools in the area had closed in March for fear of terror attacks. But this school had reopened so that the girls — the stars of their families and villages — could take their final exams. They were expected to move on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers.
For women to become teachers, doctors, lawyers is a death-knell to the evil forces who would subjugate them to perpetual servitude or bondage in these forced marriages without a voice in broader society, all in the name of their religious doctrines, which they deem so righteous and correct that they must be forced on all of society through terror tactics and oppression.
Sexual slavery will be these girls’ reward for seeking knowledge and trying to create a future for themselves and their country:
Instead, they reportedly are being auctioned off for $12 each to become ‘wives’ of militants.
Moreover, “If the girls aren’t rescued, ‘no parent will allow their female child to go to school,’ Hadiza Bala Usman, who has led protests in Nigeria on behalf of the missing girls, warned in a telephone interview.”
Kristof observes that “[t]he attack in Nigeria is part of a global backlash against girls’ education by extremists. The Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head at age 15 because she advocated for girls’ education. Extremists threw acid in the faces of girls walking to school in Afghanistan. And in Nigeria, militants destroyed 50 schools last year alone.”
Reading this and contemplating the animosity towards women’s education in such circles, my mind regrettably turns to some posts I’ve seen in the last few years on Mormon blogs loosely associated with the “Bloggernacle” that take a similarly hostile view towards a priority on secular education for women. It is truly regrettable because it shows that such opposition is not obviously immoral in the eyes of the Mormons who write such posts and who support such views. I trust that this hostility is truly a minority position among our people and easily recognized by most as extreme and harmful to the body of Christ.
Luckily, I know many, many Mormons for whom women’s secular education is a number one priority. One such Mormon friend — who works directly in the field of women’s education and empowerment, particularly in these regions where women are being severely oppressed, silenced, and covered up primarily in Islamist societies — recently told me the following, revealing a concern about women in these (and all) societies that rises above this particular incident:
Although Boko Haram is infuriating, what people don’t realize is that 30% of girls in Nigeria are married by the time they are 18. They don’t choose their marriage partners. They are often married into polygamous families to much older men. There is a bride price (higher for an educated girl), solely one way. They are enslaved in every sense in the homes of their families. It was completely predictable what would happen as soon as the girls were taken, and equally predictable is the fate that awaits them if they return. They will most likely no longer be desirable marriage partners and will have brought shame on their families. You can see this happening now as the family members refuse to cooperate with authorities to identify girls taken or even the ones who escaped. Where’s the outrage about that? Hundreds of girls are forced into these kinds of marriages, but within their own tribe, every year in Nigeria. And no one says a word.
Kristof expressed a similar view: “Northern Nigeria is a deeply conservative area, and if the schoolgirls are recovered, it may be difficult for them to marry because of suspicions that they are no longer virgins.” This is shockingly evil.
When asked what can possibly be done about this state of affairs, another Mormon friend who works professionally directly with issues of women’s empowerment in these repressive societies told me that
donating to any reputable charity program that invests in (1) women’s education or (2) women’s economic empowerment would be a good start (i.e. microlending, maybe with organizations like Kiva or similar programs). Basically, a lot of victimization occurs when women are completely economically disempowered. Anything that allows them to gain economic independence is a step in the right direction. Lots of data on how investing in women yields mountains of dividends in community peace and development.
How grateful I am for Mormons like these friends and many others whom I am privileged to know who are involved in these efforts to improve the lives and freedoms of millions (billions?) of suffering women around the world! Through such efforts, Zion can slowly begin to be established at home and abroad.
As to the Nigerian captives, Kristof direly notes that “the Nigerian military has shown little interest in rescuing the girls.” He reports, however, that “[t]he parents [of some of the girls] pursued the kidnappers, carrying bows and arrows to confront militants armed with AK-47s, but finally had to turn back.” Kristof reached out to Secretary of State John Kerry, who affirmed that the United States was “engaged and cooperating” with efforts to find the girls. And yesterday, President Obama said that “the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find nearly 300 teenage girls missing since they were kidnapped from school three weeks ago by an Islamist extremist group that has threatened to sell them.” More specifically, he said that “‘[i]n the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies.'”
This might seem the beginning of an answer to prayers offered by the parents of these girls. As Kristof reported, “[t]he father [of one], who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said that the parents are now praying to God for the United States and United Nations to help get their daughters back.” Let us join those parents in prayer and fasting for the safe return of their daughters, adding a supplication for their eager acceptance back into their families and local communities after this terrible and scarring ordeal. A fast day has been organized for May 11 for this purpose — go over to the linked Facebook group and sign up for a specific name for whom to fast if you would like to be involved. The Facebook group describes the initiative as follows:
This Mother’s Day, please join us in a day of interfaith fasting and prayer to help reunite the families of the Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by an extremist group opposed to the education of girls. Our hope is to assign one name per participant to focus on the individual worth of each of these young women. When you reply “going” you will be paired up with a name of one of the girls whose names were released to the public on May 6, 2014. We will also include those unnamed victims in our fast.
EDIT: Due to overwhelming interest, we cannot assign automatically. We simply cannot keep up with the attendees. If you would like a name, please edit the Google Doc below or see the pinned post below if you are unable to edit. Thank you.
If you are on mobile and unable to edit, change your setting on the google doc to “Desktop” and you should be able to edit.
If you would like to choose an individual’s name, please type your name into the Google Doc.
And let us as Mormons with a desire to establish Zion never add our voice or influence to forces who wish to silence the voice of women or restrict their access to education or their economic or political empowerment and freedoms. Let each of us rather do our part to ensure that such wickedness can find no footing among our people or the societies that we have occasion to influence through democratic, republican, or parliamentary processes.