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In the World We Want, Nigerian Girls Can Go to School Without Fearing for Their Lives

05/12/2014 05:24 pm ET | Updated Jul 12, 2014
  • Latanya Mapp Frett Latanya Mapp Frett is Vice President – Global, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Nigerians and people around the world are increasingly demanding the safe return of more than 200 schoolgirls who are still missing after militant extremists from the group Boko Haram staged a mass kidnapping in the northern region of the country. The situation does not seem to be getting any better. This week, reports emerged of a second kidnapping of 11 more girls.

Here's what we know: We know that more than 40 girls have escaped on their own. We have heard that the kidnappers have sold the remaining girls into marriage. We know the girls range in age from 12 to 15 years old, still very young, but old enough to get pregnant. And we have heard that the kidnappers chose schoolgirls as their targets because they don't believe women and girls should be educated.

And we know that every day, around the world, women and girls face gender-based violence and abuse and that this latest attack is yet another example of this unacceptable reality. To truly resolve this crisis, and ensure it never happens again, we need to address more than the situation at hand. We need to face the systematic discrimination against women and girls worldwide.

In the immediate term, we support U.S. efforts to use the full set of diplomatic tools and to provide personnel to assist in the Nigerian government's investigation. We also support the international community's call to make this crisis a top priority.

In the long term, donors and governments including ours need to redouble efforts to empower women and girls and move the world we have closer to the world we want. We need to invest more in women's health, make women and girls a top priority in foreign assistance, eliminate gender-based violence, and incorporate gender equity across the board in policymaking and international development.

That's the lasting lesson of this horrible crisis. And it's what the people of northern Nigeria want. I've seen this firsthand, both living in the country and working to empower women and girls there.

If there's one thing Nigerians value, it is education for their children. The people exacting terror across the northern region of the country do not represent the communities living there. Planned Parenthood Global, the international division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, works with incredible partners throughout northern Nigeria -- including both Muslims and Christians.

These organizations are the future of Nigeria. They work tirelessly to empower girls, not rip them out of school and rob them of their childhoods. They fight for broader access to sexual and reproductive health care, and they put a special emphasis on investing in the health and lives of young people because, unlike the terrorists, our partners care about progress for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world.

Our partners focus on reproductive health care, because they know that, ultimately, access to family planning leads to more stable and prosperous societies. When women have access to family planning, they are able to stay in school, pursue careers, and become leaders in their communities.

We have our work cut out for us. More and more, we hear global leaders talking about the importance of investing in women, but words are not enough. The world we have doesn't yet look like the world we want. In the world we have, one in three women worldwide experiences sexual violence. We need to treat this epidemic like the crisis it is.

In the world we want, schoolgirls can go to sleep in dormitories without fearing that strange men will storm in to kidnap them in the middle of the night. In the world we want, young men are taught to respect women. In the world we want, people don't face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In the world we want, all people have access to the education and health care they deserve.

In the world we want, more than 200 girls in northern Nigeria are returned swiftly and safely to their families -- and, in their name, the world commits to ending systematic discrimination against women and girls.

Latanya Mapp Frett is Vice President - Global, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.