There is a girl in Nigeria who just turned 12. She sits at home in somber contemplation. The familiarity of her world has been flipped on its face. She had to withdraw from school yesterday because her parents do not have enough money to pay her school fees. They can only pay the fees of either her or her brother, and they came to the conclusion that it will be more worthwhile to educate her brother than to educate her. Things are falling apart in her family, her parents have lost their job and they can no longer feed the whole family. They are immersed in defeating poverty. Tomorrow is her wedding day. They need the bride price from her wedding in order to put food on the table and pay her brother's school fees. The vulnerability of childhood is a cost she can no longer afford; her innocence is a gift that she can no longer hold on to. She becomes an investment in everyone else's future but her own. This is not the story of a singular girl leaving an isolated life. She is a symbol of the girl child in rural Nigeria. But worst than this, no one is willing to fight for her; her plights simply fade into oblivion.
In a very informative piece that I read on The Guardian, the harrowing statistics that are representative of the educational system in Nigeria were noted. There are about 140 million people in Nigeria, and of this census, a third of them are youths between the ages of 10 and 24. In Nigeria, over 10 million children are not receiving formal education, and a majority of these children are girls that live in the majority-Muslim North. Statistics put out by UNICEF represented education in the positive sense. In this statistics, the literacy rate for boys between the ages of 15 and 24 is 75.6%, while the literacy age for girls between the ages of 15 and 24 is 58%. Added to this, the educational system in Nigeria, especially in the public school sector, has very low standards, owing to the ineffectuality of our government in addressing these issues.
Based on the aforementioned statistics, one can begin to formulate a picture of the educational system in Nigeria. There is a problem of illiteracy in Nigeria that is plaguing the youths, and this problem has a disproportionate effect on females than it does on males. The illiteracy rate in Nigeria can be attributed to a lot of factors. One of these factors though, is an internalization and normalization of the problems reflected by the statistics. I will argue that education is a human right and that individuals and the society at large owe a duty to ensure that every child gets an education. This does not simply mean building schools and making them available, because that will not address the cultural factors at play in Nigeria. But, it also encompasses a positive duty to ensure that every child in Nigeria, both males and females, gets a good education.
As I stated above, the problems within the educational system tends to disproportionately affect females, in Northern Nigeria that are deeply immersed in poverty. However, there is also a cultural perspective that exists in this part of Nigeria, which argues that females ought not to get an education simply because they are girls. One of the direct results of this cultural perspective is the practice of child marriage in Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria, rather than an investment in the education of the female child. This is not a view held by everyone in Nigeria or in Northern Nigeria. However, enough people hold this view, that it is a problem that has greatly affected the Nigerian society and the lives of these female children. So, when people are analyzing the event take took place in Nigeria, where over 200 hundred Nigerian girls were abducted from their school, they must understand this event in the context of the social and cultural reality that already exists in Nigeria.
Boko Haram, the insurgent group that allegedly abducted the girls, feeds on the terrorization of the people within the Nigerian society. Their insurgency group thrives in the context of extreme poverty, political and social alienation and illiteracy. The group released a video explaining the reasons why they abducted the girls, and what they intended to do to the girls now that they say they have them. If you dig beneath their ideological discourse and political motivations, the core of their explanation is that they do not believe that girls ought to be in school, receiving an education. The Nigerian government's irresponsible response to the crisis has garnered strong criticism, local protests, and international help from countries such as the United States of American and England. However, whilst this search carries on, we must not ignore the larger narrative at play in this case. The leader of Boko Haram and the group as a whole do not believe in the education of the female child, however, this is not a novel narrative in Nigeria. It is a narrative that subsists within the social and cultural normalization of the false idea that the female child is worth less than the male child, one that is compounded with political apathy and the ineffectuality on the part of the Nigerian government.
Ignoring this wider social, cultural and political context within Nigerian has dangerous implications for the Nigerian society. The girls that were kidnapped represent the best of our society. Amidst the dangers of going to school in their town, they still got up and went to school everyday. They believed in their right to invest in themselves and their future, a view not shared by a part of the Nigerian society, one that is too often internalized. However, these girls are symbols for other girls within Nigerian society that are fighting within this social and cultural backdrop to break out of the stagnant narrative they are subsumed within and to write their own story. We must remember the Nigerian girl child and how difficult it is for many of them to receive an education. We must fight for the girls abducted to be returned safely to their homes, but we must also simultaneously stand up for the right of girls to get an education in Nigeria. If we do not, then we render the chants to 'Bring Back Our Girls' virtually meaningless.