I’m glad we’re responding to this. But I’m not surprised by it, not at all.
It took us long enough to care about the devastating kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. When we finally did start paying attention (two weeks later), the incident created a media firestorm. Of course it did. It has all the ingredients, really: A villain, who provides shocking media of his villain-ness. Heroes, complete with moral outrage and relatable heartbreak. We even created a catchy hashtag–hello, 2014 activism.
This kidnapping story is a simple, engaging, and heart-wrenching narrative. It allows us to point at someone specific and say “HIM. BAD.” It gives us the opportunity to talk about overwhelming topics. It lets us connect because, regardless of how you feel about oil/abortion/Jesus/Harper/Wall Street/capitalism/Congress, we all know stealing and selling people is not cool.
We don’t know that because we’re morally superior, by the way. We know that because, through our brutal histories (‘sup, slavery?) we’ve learned it the hard way.
…or so we think.
The problem is we haven’t properly learned it, not really. This isn’t a freak incident with one crazy guy and a few unlucky girls. This isn’t something that happened in poor little underdeveloped Africa. This is systematic. This is global. This is in our backyard.
If we look past the narrative and see what’s really happening here, we are forced to realize that the #BringBackOurGirls conversation is, rightfully, about so many things. It’s about education. It’s about violence against women. It’s about human trafficking, it’s about international pressure, it’s about radicalism, it’s about human rights.
The hard truth is this: If we are calling the victims “our girls,” we should also call the perpetrators “our human traffickers.” We should fight, we should talk, we should care, we should demand action, but we should not feel like our governments and our people are somehow “better” than this. We don’t get to claim the hero role, not while we are still part of human trafficking and violent repression incidents all over the world, every day.
Not while Canada has failed to address over 1,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Not while “sex tourism” is a bustling international industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with children making up an upwards of 40% of active prostitutes in India and Thailand.
Not while sex trafficking brings an estimated 800,000 women and girls (about half of whom are children) across borders every year, including an estimated 50,000 to the United States.
Not while American media coverage focuses primarily on missing middle-class white women, while persons of colour, runaways, and sex workers go missing far more often.
Not while there are over 64 million child brides worldwide .
Not while approximately 140 million women and girls living in the world today have undergone female circumcision.
Not while harassment against women in schools is internationally widespread, including statistics of up to 83% of women in the United States experiencing sexual harassment in public schools.
Not while the high majority of sex workers in Western Europe are undocumented immigrants with nowhere else to turn.
When we say #BringBackOurGirls, we have a lot more girls to think about. A lot more governments to hold responsible. A lot more conversations to have.
It’s not just about Nigeria. It’s about all of us.
While international efforts to get these girls back are amazing, it doesn’t mean the countries helping are paragons of virtue in the human trafficking field. Not even a little bit. From many angles, the response is downright hypocritical. That doesn’t mean countries like Canada should stop helping. It means that they should keep helping–just don’t stop with these two hundred girls.
Don’t stop until your citizens aren’t flying to other countries to have sex with children. Don’t stop until you accept responsibility for the safety and well-being of our sisters who are Aboriginal, vulnerable, poor, and sex workers. Don’t stop until you investigate all cases of missing and murdered women. Don’t stop until every woman feels comfortable walking home (or, say, walking through the hallways at school).
Don’t stop until you #BringBackOurGirls–every single one of them.