The kidnap and enslavement of over 234 school girls from Chibok, an act so brutal it shocks the imagination and mocks any notion of human decency, is still in full swing. It has been two months of unfathomable horrors since they were kidnapped; two months in which we have read and observed several gory accounts of the hapless girls being shepherded to hidden swathes of west and central Africa, humiliated in propaganda videos, forced to convert to Islam, and stripped of their humanity and dignity.
The #bringbackourgirls social media campaign has moved on; but the problem has not been solved. The girls have not been rescued, and their plight seems to have been forgotten. Indeed, the kidnapped girls have every cause to feel abandoned by the world. If we can forget them in captivity, what evidence is there to suggest that they would not be abandoned and forgotten when released from captivity? Where are the strategies and plans to provide them with the empathy, compassion, support and sense of security they need to move on with their lives?
As we have said before, this kind of violence is an affront to the body, soul, and dignity of every human being. But the issue here is not only about bringing the girls back physically. We have to bring back their humanity, their self-esteem, their emotional stability, their belief in a just and fair world, and their psychological balance.
For women, the victimization often goes beyond the physical abuse. Women who are victims of sexual abuse are often held in shame. They lose social regard and are treated like outcasts. And in most conservative communities, they are treated like spoiled goods, unfit to marry or have children. Not only do they face discrimination and stigma in the foreseeable future, but poverty and lack of opportunities may force many into prostitution or suicide.
This is perhaps the nightmarish fate that awaits the girls of Chibok if they are rescued from the kidnappers. The prospect of a normal life is improbable. Beyond the physical and psychological trauma, which would not be easy to recover from, there is also the substantial weight of negative perception that will follow them back to the communities they live in. The perception goes beyond the fact that their virtue has been stolen and points to the likelihood that the girls may not have a dignified re-entry into society. It then becomes imperative to make plans on how to re-integrate the girls into society, for what would be a tough life going forward.
Grace Foundation for Education and Development is deeply committed to the cause of helping the Chibok girls recover from the truly harrowing events that have befallen them. While we send our prayers and best wishes for their safe return, we call on the Nigerian government and other world leaders, to critically look at what can be done to help the girls before and after their rescue. We call on all good and well-meaning people in the world to set up scholarships, counseling services, funds, jobs, hospitals to help rehabilitate the girls. We call on those who do not have the financial resources to mount a sustained pressure on people in authority to make clear that this kind of shocking and appalling violence on women will not be tolerated any longer. International laws and codes of conduct on enslavement and sexual violence against women and girls must be enforced, while also supporting counseling and other services for victims. The girls of Chibok represent a whole generation of sisters, daughters, nieces, aunties, wives, and mothers. They are an essential part of our human ecosystem. We must not allow them to be victims forever.