A global effort to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’
By Nadia Nasanovsky
First there were the grieving relatives of the abducted girls. Then Nigerian human rights activists joined the protest. Now, the entire world, from celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Puff Daddy and Chris Brown to high-profile political figures like the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have turned to social media with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, demanding he release of nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic group Boko Haram last month.
Beyond the obvious positive emotional repercussions the campaign has had, its effect on achieving the girls’ release remains yet to be seen.
Last week, Boko Haram’s attack on a school in the city of Chibok, in the northeastern state of Borno, shed light on the horrific crimes these rebels have been carrying out in the name of the Muslim faith.
According to the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the group based in the North East of Nigeria is responsible for over 10,000 reported deaths since May 2011, with the number of victims increasing by 80 percent over the past year.
"This didn’t just break down this week. Boko Haram has been doing this since 2009," the Executive Director of the Jubilee Campaign USA Anna Buwalda tells the BuenosAiresherald.com. Buwalda's non profit organization has been very actively advocating against Boko Haram for years. “Its main targets have been christians, pastors and also schools,” she adds. The schoolgirls attack took weeks before reaching media outlets.
"This could happen to my children"
Boko Haram - which means "Western Education Is A Sin" - kidnapped the girls from their school in Chibok on April 14. International media echoed the story only last week.
To make sure the attack didn’t just disappear from headlines like many other cases have before, relatives of the missing girls launched a protest on the streets of Abuja, the country’s capital that spread accross the country, calling on the government to rescue the girls.
But Nigerian civil society activists took anti-Boko Haram claims a step further.
Considering the attack exposed the weaknesses of Nigeria's security strategy, they began to advocate to "improve government’s accountability on security issues, particularly in the northeast."
A month after the kidnapping, #BringBackOurGirls - first inspired by human rights activist and former government official Oby Ezekwesili’s speech at a UNESCO event on April 23 in the city of Port Harcourt -, has been used in social media nearly a million times - viralizing in Twittwer every 22 seconds on May 8 - to demand the girls’ freedom.
Although the campaign began locally, Anna Buwalda explains it then gained worldwide notoriety. “Now, primarily thanks to social media, people around the world are thinking ‘this could happen to my children’."
#Bringbackourgirls viralizes in the real world
Campaigners have managed to raise public awareness outside the virtual world.
Nigerians in the US and the UK have organized protests in front of their country's embassies and consulates. In London, a group of young activists were organizing a solidarity protest in front of the Nigerian consulate with speeches and singing which will end with the submission of an open letter to be delivered to Nigeria's government.
Meanwhile, in Bonn, Germany, Nigerian expatriate Ify Elueze has created an online petition addressed to “all world leaders” to free the girls. It has already reached nearly 600,000 signatures.
“We all share a common bond in uniting for these young girls, and we pray that they are found,” Ify Elueze tells the BuenosAiresherald.com.
"#BringOurGirlsBack is bringing the world's attention to what is happening in Nigeria. It was created to keep the missing girls on the news radar,” Sola Tayo, associate fellow at Africa Program of the London-based Chatham House told the BuenosAiresherald.com. “There is a real danger that the disappearance of these girls will be forgotten about and search efforts reduced. By keeping the hashtag and campaign in the news, the pressure will remain on the authorities to continue search efforts.”