An empty classroom

110 schoolgirls have been abducted, so why is nobody talking about it?

In 2014, when 276 female students were abducted from their secondary school in the town of Chibok, Nigeria, the world was outraged. These were 276 young women, going about their daily lives, who came to harm in a place where they should have been safe. The subsequent efforts to relocate them prompted support from around the world, and #BringBackOurGirls trended on social media, with everyone from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian lending their faces to the cause.

But almost four years later, it’s happened again. And this time, no one is talking about it. On 19 February 2018, an all-girls' school in Dapchi, Nigeria was stormed and 110 girls kidnapped. Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group (also known as the Islamic State of West Africa), claimed responsibility for the initial Chibok abduction and are suspected to be behind this one too. Considered by the Global Terror Index to be among the most dangerous groups in the world, since the early 2000s they are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands in targeted attacks, bombings and abductions.

Realistically, the picture for the girls of Dapchi is probably not good; Boko Haram are notorious for their brutality, torture and for selling girls as young as nine into sexual slavery. Of the 276 girls taken in the initial abduction at Chibok, 112 remain missing, with a number known to have been killed. By the time other girls were rescued, freed or escaped, many of them had children of their own, the sons and daughters of Boko Haram fighters. More still, having survived this traumatic experience a large number have been shunned by their families, owing to cultural stigmatisation over rape and sexual assault.

All of this serves to underscore, if anything, why we need to talk about this issue. It may be too late for many of the Chibok girls that were taken in 2014, but that doesn’t mean it has to be too late for this latest group. Yet politicians have so far declined to publicly acknowledge the situation. Despite a barrage of criticism and action from world leaders to the 2014 abductions - which included the US and the UK sending expert teams and military resources to help find the girls - in 2018 there has been an almost complete radio silence from those in power. Of course, there may be things going on behind the scenes that we don't know about, but this abduction is no insignificant action; if these girls were American, it's hard to believe that the public-facing response would be so blasé. 

But the response of our celebs, our #MeToo champions, has been even more of a letdown. We have to ask: why it is that those who were so quick to be vocally involved last time no longer seem willing to lead the way? It’s said that politicians don’t set public policy, they simply respond to what the public want - take for example the fact that President Obama was publicly opposed same-sex marriage until polls showed that public opinion supported it. So while a reality-TV star such as Kim Kardashian speaking out about international affairs may seem tacky and gimmicky, and like something she’s completely out of touch with, it is often these people that attract public attention, which in turn influences our own politicians to act. Hashtag activism may get a bad rep, but it has its place.

However, the silence surrounding this abduction also draws attention to the disposable nature of news in the digital age; a mass-abduction of young women appears to be a story that was so big last time that it’s already "old news" for editors, despite being very new. Although many outlets briefly covered it, the focus has been minuscule in comparison, and even a New York Times in-depth piece referred to the Dapchi abduction as simply as “stirring up painful memories”. Celebrities may rush to be involved with a cause because it makes for good PR for them, but this without the celebrity angle, news providers now seem less compelled to cover it. On all fronts, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has, it seems, become the humanitarian equivalent of fast fashion.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we join together to celebrate the many achievements of women all over the globe, speak up for those who can’t and highlight the work still to be done as we strive for equality, whether that means equal pay, freedom from sexual violence or even just not being fat-shamed for that extra packet of chips.

Undoubtedly, there will be a plethora of hollering from famous faces, both women and men, who will tweet and Instagram their way through the day, all keen to be seen to be doing their bit. Government departments and media outlets will do the same, posting inspiring quotes and drawing attention to the progress being made. However, the issue which should be discussed today is the 110 girls snatched from their school last week.