An alarming observation to be made of the current state of western values towards women’s issues is a startling omission from its top priorities. Boko Haram, a group whose name translates to “western education is forbidden,” is a terrorist organization that represents a greater, more real threat to women and gender equality than anything in western society today. Rather than focus on a real and present danger, many organizations for women spend their time promoting vague hashtags conducting a witch hunt to prove a correlation between playing video games and being a misogynist.
Boko Haram has committed a litany of atrocities against humanity in general, in addition to representing the brutal repression of women in the areas where they operate. Their goal is the actual formation of an Islamic state, a cordoned-off portion of the face of the planet, in which women would be denied much of their basic humanity. Somehow this does not warrant the same level of attention as that of a woman whom, in the style of James O’Keefe, filmed herself getting cat-called in New York. While sexual harassment is an serious and ever-present issue, it is baffling how much more air time was received by that story in comparison to new reports of Boko Haram and the missing girls airing concurrently.
A Google search for “Feminist condemns Boko Haram” turned up a first page where the only stories that matched the keyword criteria were questions about the inaction of feminists in regards to Boko Haram. That is simply jaw-dropping and demands criticism, as Boko Haram has kidnapped at least 500 women in the past five years, posing a real, actual, substantive threat. Half of them have been school-aged girls to be forced into sexual degradation, arranged marriage, forced labor, and even participation in the violence.
The fact that GamerGate dominated the attention of the media from mid-September on through much of October shows that the motivations of many news outlets are to drive traffic and ratings with the next fresh scandal rather than remind people of girls that have been missing for six months. Emma Watson, Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, deserves partial credit. She posted to her twitter saying “It’s important that these men are held accountable for their crimes and that we keep up the pressure to find these girls,” and also posted a selfie showing herself holding a sign which read “# bring back our girls.”
However, when handed a global microphone at the U.N., Watson dropped the ball. Watson’s speech at the U.N. was regaled as remarkable simply for sounding rational and blandly appealing. It contained no mention of Boko Haram or the Chibok girls, and seemed ultimately to have occurred solely for the purpose of launching the #HeForShe hashtag and its accompanying press campaign. Many participants in the current iteration of social justice activism spend more time on the promotion of it as an end in and of itself, than exploring the possibility that they could use their infrastructure to help people in worse need, on a greater scale. Perhaps they could provide Boko Haram with smart phones to download twitter and read those hashtags.
It is not the case that the figures in the media and in the halls of power who represent women’s rights are expected to rescue those girls from Boko Haram themselves. The issue is that when the day planner comes out and it is time to set the agenda, groups like the National Organization for Women invariably look toward newer, better trending issues as their top priorities. With everything going on in the world today, and Boko Haram in the news again, the revolving marquee at the top of N.O.W.’s website is full of stories about issues such as the Catholic Church’s objection to providing birth control. The message that this implies is that those girls who were stolen from their homes and subjected to horrors are less important than ideological purity at home. A real threat to women today is Boko Haram.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Photo Public Domain, courtesy of Voice of America
Inset Image by flickr user pinguino k – flickr License