Not long ago, two stories set up camp in my brain. The first was a report from Nigeria noting that an Islamist terrorist group had abducted 300 schoolgirls and were selling them as brides for what amounted to $12 apiece. The parents have been clamouring for government intervention and social media has been abuzz for about two weeks now to bring attention to the situation.
Muslim girls attend a demonstration in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday calling on the Nigerian government to rescue 276 missing schoolgirls who were kidnapped from a government secondary school April 15. — Photo by The Associated Press
What may surprise readers is the fact that the girls had been taken from their school on April 15 while they sat for exams. It’s only been in the last couple of days that the Western media outlets were beginning to cover the story.
When I shared various reports from smaller, but no less credible outlets, I’ve been seeing two common responses: “If that happened here, it would be a non-stop story,” and “it has happened here but it doesn’t get covered because it’s been happening to aboriginal women.”
Shortly after a CNN report about the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping crossed my news feed, a second story caught my attention — this one about a report from the RCMP confirming that an estimated 1,200 aboriginal women are missing or murdered murdered in Canada in the last 30 years.
Following hard on the heels of that story was a third which reported a recommendation to hold an inquiry into the fate of aboriginal women was refused by the Canadian government.
In fact, CBC reported it had learned the recommendation was removed from a draft version of the report of the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women. The MP-based committee made 16 recommendations, but a national inquiry was not among them in the final report presented this March.
The fourth story in as many days reports that Nigeria’s First Lady doesn’t believe that girls have been abducted.
Together the stories reveal a tremendous lack of value in girls and women, specifically women of colour and aboriginal women, among the highest levels of government leadership in Nigeria and Canada.
Community advocacy, driven by parents and relatives of the missing and murdered women in Canada and the abducted girls in Nigeria, has pushed for action, with little institutional response.
The fact that the RCMP has now confirmed numbers initially collected by native women’s groups speaks volumes. The issue can no longer be relegated to a dusty file box or ignored because the victims are aboriginal.
In Nigeria, it appears that the issue driving inaction is the loss of face. The leaders of protests and demonstrations to increase attention and to force negotiation with the kidnappers were detained by police and the wife of the country’s president accused them of making up the story to bring shame to the country.
A couple of years ago, I listened to Sheryl WuDunn, former journalist and the founder of Half the Sky, an educational foundation for girls and women, describe in a speech the opportunity we face in improving the status of women.
WuDunn noted that eliminating slavery and totalitarianism had been the defining struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, but that ending the oppression of girls and women globally should be and would be the focus of the 21st century.
Her words come back to me as I read and listen about the girls in Nigeria and the aboriginal girls and women in Canada. I’m inspired by groups like Walking With Our Sisters, a totally community driven and supported initiative traversing not just Canada but the whole world in its efforts to draw attention to the missing and murdered indigenous women.
These lives, here in Canada and in Nigeria, have no less meaning, value and purpose for being female. The fact that we are seeing community challenging government institutions is valuable, but we need more from them, like the RCMP’s review and the MPs’ report to change the systems that allow their lived to be rendered invisible and not worthy of attention. There may be a chance for the girls in Nigeria; there should be more than that for the current and coming generations of aboriginal women in Canada.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant based in St. John’s.