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Harsh Reality Break: 234 Girls Kidnapped from Physics Test (Updated)

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Warning: this is a horrible story. 234 young women were abducted from a physics test in Nigeria, specifically to keep them from getting an education. Nothing is being done to find them. Collective public outrage is the only tool that can possibly get a search started. Updates at the bottom.

Over 200 students were abducted from this school in Chibok, Nigeria. 234 are still missing. Haruna Umar/AP


The students were loaded into a truck at gunpoint, and taken into the forest. It is assumed that the kidnappers were Boko Haram, an extremist group whose name means, "Western education is sinful." The idea of allowing girls to get an education, and, worse, yet, a science education, is everything they hate. They have a local history of doing crazy, horrible things, like assassinating clerics who criticize their extremism, bombing schools, murdering students, and kidnapping girls to use as sex slaves. At the time of the kidnapping, every other school in the area was shut down due to security concerns, but this school was kept open specifically to take final exams, with over 100 taking a physics test. Their parents say that if they'd done well on their exams, many of the women were hoping to pursue higher education.

The world has a lot of terrible, horrible things happening in it, but this is insane, crazy, and heart-breaking. I'm a female scientist in Canada, where the Montreal Massacre is an annual reminder of the power of hatred, sexism, and violence in limiting women's access to education. I'm a geophysicist who ran a field crew in Africa, working in a camp directly next to a school and hiring locals who told me about their dreams for the future. I know this first-hand: education is a powerful tool for reshaping the world, and making this a better, cooler, more interesting place to live. This shit cannot be tolerated.


I don't usually have much faith in clicking-for-activism, but publicly declaring outrage is the only tool we have to get a search started. These girls can't even count on their own government to look for them. As Rebecca Watson writes:

The Nigerian government is doing less than nothing – at one point they announced that the girls had been found and rescued, but the parents revealed that was a lie. The parents are spending their own money to hire motorcycles and cars to trek into the forest, and coming back empty-handed.

So, snuggled between stories of awesome science and bad-ass science fiction, here's my harsh break to reality. Raise awareness for this story. Sign the petition demanding the Nigerian government start an actual, real search. This news is downright stale — the kidnapping occurred over a week ago on April 15th — so if you're only hearing about it now, turn around and slap your news-provider for ignoring it. Ask your local paper or TV news station why they aren't covering the story when kidnapping 234 students out of exams anywhere in Europe or North America would elicit screaming headlines and constant coverage. If you're on Twitter, spread awareness with the hashtags helpthegirls and bringbackourdaughters.

Maybe it will do nothing. But maybe, with enough pressure and outrage and collective public demands into how the fuck 234 girls can be taken from their classroom, we'll cause enough embarrassment to get a real search started.


UPDATE APRIL 30: Some of the girls have been forcibly married off, and Boko Haram may be open to releasing the rest. Three died, and 18 are sick.

UPDATE MAY 1: US Senate might formally condemn the kidnapping. Contact your representatives to get them to support the resolution.


UPDATE MAY 5: Leader of Boko Haram brags about selling the girls.

UPDATE MAY 6: More girls were kidnapped, this time 12 to 15 year olds snatched from their homes. The only silver of silver lining in this is that Boko Haram isn't an ignored evil in a dark shadow anymore, but trapped in a spotlight of global outrage that might actually start dealing with the problem. Yes, as discussed below, it's one seriously complicated problem with no easy fix, but "ignore it" wasn't working.


UPDATE MAY 7: Now it's being reported that Boko Haram has gone on another killing spree. I don't understand, I don't have an answer, and I don't know if murmuring of sending UK or US special forces into the region will solve anything. This is all utter insanity, and every new update enforces the utter insanity of every aspect of this situation.

The Discussion thread is pretty intense, so here's some highlights:

  1. If you have a browser-extension that forces HTTPS-only, the link to the petition won't work.
  2. sugabelly, a southern Nigerian, provides local context here, here, here, and other sub-threads in the same region of the page. sugabelly started a new thread on the class-warfare aspects of this situation here. This context is starting to get into the media here.
  3. mazzzystarrrs and southern Nigerian ciwrites give historical context on the 1966 civil war here and here.
  4. wcullen, a former UN combat solider, provides context as to why the UN hasn't gotten involved here and here. mazzystarrs has recommendations for effectively contacting your local UN office here. The UN has a formal statement here.
  5. mazzystarrrs is trying to brainstorm additional action-measures for building pressure besides the petition to the Nigerian government (which is copied to the United Nations) here.
  6. A lot of people are pointing out that after this long, a happy resolution is highly unlikely. Although exact numbers are difficult to verify, out of the parent-created list of 234 missing students (although not all parents may have reported their children missing), the school reports up to 43 53 girls managed to escape into the forest and are home. Historically, Boko Haram keeps kidnapped women alive as "servants" so the young women may be alive.
  7. It's a FAQ why I don't list variant-of-extremist, so I answer that here.
  8. The petition had under 4,000 signatures at the time of initial publication. At the time of this update, fewer than 10% of people who read this article have signed.