Tuesday 26 September 2017

The usefulness (or not) of being female

It took the world nearly a month to take action on the kidnapping of several hundred girls, writes Julia Molony

A woman carries a sign as she attends a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos
A woman carries a sign as she attends a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos
People carry a banner as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos

Julia Molony

It took some time – about three weeks – but eventually the plight of the 265 schoolgirls kidnapped by a brutal jihadist militia as they prepared to sit their exams in north-east Nigeria made its way onto the international stage. But it's yet to become clear the value of this publicity and how it might influence their fate.

Just 10 days ago, when reports started to emerge that 100 armed men had arrived at a boarding school in Chibok, and rounded up the pupils there, all aged 16-17, into trucks at gunpoint before driving them off into the Sambisa forest, the distress calls of their parents were largely met with local and global indifference. It was one of the largest mass kidnappings in recent history, and yet no one seemed to be interested. The reaction of Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, wearied from months of dissident violence in the country's largely Muslim northern states, was feeble at best. The attention of the rest of the world seemed otherwise occupied.

It was the gender issue that finally provided the spark of publicity in the west. Reporters and writers with an interest in championing the cause of education for girls got wind of the story, which fitted tragically into a well-worn editorial line paved by Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, and word started to spread. Ironically, had they been boys, these children might still be being ignored. Perhaps this is the only saving grace, in this case, that the victims' gender can confer. In February, the same terrorist group Boko Haram (their name roughly translates as "western education is a sin") attacked a boys' school, locking the pupils inside and then setting the building on fire. Fifty-nine pupils died in a tragedy more than four times the scale of, say, the Colum-bine killings but it barely got a mention in the world press.

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