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Education, Gender, Kidnapping: Fight for the Right to Learn!

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Almost two weeks ago Gordon Brown wrote: "The world must wake up to an escalating tragedy now engulfing Nigeria. Today the lives of 230 teenage schoolgirls hang in the balance." As of this afternoon, more than 200 girls are still missing, presumed kidnapped from their school in Nigeria. It has been three weeks since they were abducted. This is what the Washington Post reports:

Three weeks have now passed since dozens of heavily armed men descended upon a darkened dormitory where hundreds of Nigerian girls slept, abducted them and disappeared into the night. Three weeks since authorities erroneously stated that only 100 Chibok girls were missing -- when in fact it was 276. And three weeks since hundreds of parents last saw their children, since they've launched protests that have swept a nation, since some of the girls were reportedly sold for $12 and vanished.

Today Agence France Presse reportedly had a video from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, claiming responsibility for the attack. In Shekau's extremist version of Islam, the education of girls is a Western plot to destroy the culture of authentic piety and submission.

As Jill Filopovic wrote in the Guardian: "No girl should be a hero for getting an education. But for many girls around the world, walking through the schoolhouse doors isn't a right or an assumption: it's a victory over conservative fanatics - some of whom carry guns."

Three of the major factors in the basic oppression of women in the developing world are child labor, child marriage and gender-based violence. Getting girls into primary school and giving them the opportunity for secondary education are important tools for addressing these sources of vulnerability. That's why we must speak out against this heinous attack on human rights meant to stop girls from learning and terrorize parents and kids. Keeping girls in school reduces marriage rates for the youngest, a key vehicle for helping families escape poverty. Funding scholarships for these families is an important tool in this regard, as long as we can protect the children from violence. Keeping girls in school also has the benefit of reducing child labor, which effectively raises wages for those in the labor market.

And as Amartya Sen has put it: "There is definitive empirical evidence that women's literacy and schooling cut down child mortality and work against the selective neglect of the health of girls. They are also the strongest influence, among all relevant causal factors, in cutting down fertility rates."

You've likely heard a lot more recently about natural disasters, transportation accidents and sports than you have about the missing Chibok girls. But make no mistake about it: The attack on these little girls is a war on women's rights, on education and on creating the possibilities that all people, as philosopher Martha Nussbaum has put it, can lead a fully human life.

Heroes are fighting back. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who has fought for the rights of all young people to get a decent education. She stood up to Taliban thugs who tried to keep girls out of school, and she remained hopeful and defiant even after they shot her. When Jon Stewart asked Malala where the love of her education came from, she answered that it came from recognizing that as a human being she had a basic right to learn. When groups tried to take this away under the aegis of (male) religious authority, she had to fight back.

Education for Malala became a right worth fighting for. It still is.