Friday Inspiration: The Right to an Education

Magnified flag of nigeria with blue globeI’m stepping away from writing craft today in order to discuss the horrid situation in Nigeria.

The morning I awoke to the Today Show reporting 234 girls had been abducted from a boarding school in Nigeria, I gasped. Not just at the occurrence of such a despicable act but over the fact that it had happened THREE WEEKS PRIOR! It seemed that social media was finally responsible for bringing it to the global stage. How could something so terrible occur and not be reported by every news agency in the world as soon as it happened? Good Lord! We wake up to breaking news about the most ridiculous and trivial things that reporters lose their minds over, recounting every stupid detail, over…and over…and over…ad nauseum.

Can you imagine if 234 girls were abducted from a school in Paris or New York? The uproar would be deafening, demanding immediate and aggressive action.

According to accounts, armed members of Boko Haram, and Islamic terrorist organization, overwhelmed security guards at an all-girls school, herded the girls out of bed and forced them into trucks in the town of Chibok. The convoy then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon. (CNN)

Fears for the fate of the girls turned even more nightmarish when the leader of the terrorist group announced plans to sell them…as wives…for $12! Abubakar Shekau, who claims to be the leader of Boko Haram, said in a recent video, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,” according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language. Boko Haram means “Western education should end,” a message Shekau emphasized in his nearly hour-long rambling video. “Girls, you should go and get married,” he said.

Thankfully, international pressure is mounting as protesters take to the streets around the world to demand the girls’ release and recent reports say that the U.S. and other countries are sending assistance in a variety of forms. Admittedly, I am far removed from such a culture and as a professional educator for nearly forty years, the incomprehensible idea that a child, a girl, would be denied the opportunity for an education is unfathomable to me. Worse, that these girls were kidnapped for the sole purpose of being sold as wives threatens to stop my heart. Abhorrent acts like female circumcision and marrying off girls as young as ten and eleven, plus denying girls the freedom to chart their own destiny are intolerable abuses in my mind.

As Americans, we sometimes take for granted the right to our freedoms: speech, religion, education, and the right to marry whomever we want, if we want, and as writers- to write whatever we want. These young women represent the future of many impoverished nations and are some of the best and brightest in their country: potential doctors, lawyers and educators. Though Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy, poverty remains widespread. Nearly 62% of the country’s nearly 170 million people live in extreme poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook.

And let’s not forget fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2010 simply because she wanted an education. Her subsequent bravery to return to her country and go back to school is hard to comprehend and yet, now, education officials in Pakistan have banned her memoir, I am Malala, written by the teenager with British journalist Christina Lamb. Adeeb Javedani, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, said his group had banned the book from the libraries of all affiliated schools. He said Malala, now 16, was representing the West, not Pakistan.

Malala has advised Nigeria’s Boko Haram to “go and learn Islam”, saying the dreaded extremist outfit is “misusing the name of the religion” by kidnapping these schoolgirls. “I think they haven’t studied Islam yet, they haven’t studied Quran yet, and they should go and they should learn Islam,” the 16-year-old told CNN. “I think that they should think of these girls as their own sisters. How can one imprison his own sisters and treat them in such a bad way?” she said, referring to threats to sell the girls into slavery. “They are actually misusing the name of Islam because they have forgotten that the word islam means peace.”

“Access to education is a basic right and an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls,” former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote recently on Twitter and I echo her thoughts. Although all education is important, the ability to read is probably the most important. When women are able to read they acquire knowledge, and that is crucial to helping them improve their lives. And these terrifying extremists know this, hence, why they target education and books. You can use #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter to enter this discussion.

Boko Haram’s name translates to “Western education is a sin” in the local language. The group especially opposes the education of women. Under its version of Sharia law, women should be at home raising children and looking after their husbands, not at school learning to read and write. Okay, my blood is boiling!Tree growing from an open bookMy personal philosophy in life is pretty much “to each his own.” Believe and act as you wish, according to your own tenets, just don’t shove them down my throat. However, it is difficult to accept that in this modern day, one’s religion/culture would ever prevent a child from obtaining an education. It should be a right for all people, not a privilege, ignorance is far worse than any sin, and if you prevent people from seeking the tree of knowledge, well, then how can we ever evolve from the proverbial Garden of Eden?



Author: Caryn McGill

Caryn is a former high school science teacher, school district administrator and adjunct college professor.

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