On my first day of first grade, I cried when my father dropped me off in the schoolyard, scared to be left alone. In sixth grade, I worried about making friends in a new school. In eleventh grade, my knees shook when I stood up to speak at my school’s speech contest.
I was afraid, but my fears were not unusual. I was a young girl going to school, and my fears helped me grow up.
But I was never afraid that someone might kidnap or kill me.
Over 230 girls were studying for their final exams last month at a boarding school in Nigeria. When armed men arrived at their school and ordered them into trucks, the girls thought at first that it was an operation by the Nigerian military. But soon, they realized the danger they were in. The men revealed themselves as members of Boko Haram, a militant group ideologically opposed to education.
In the next days, a few girls managed to slip away from their captivity and return home to their families. But most of those girls are still missing, and their families are desperate. Some families have made their own rescue efforts but have returned without their daughters. And the Nigerian government has been slow to act, even spreading misinformation about the kidnapping.
Why were these girls targeted? Why is girls’ education seen as such a threat by fundamentalists across the world? Why are girls opposed, even kidnapped and killed, when they try to go to school?
Because when you educate a girl, you open up a new world. You chip away at discrimination and barriers that hold girls back. You give girls the tools to elevate themselves as leaders. You give girls a platform to voice their ideas and dreams.
These girls strike fear into the hearts of scared but dangerous men. Boko Haram and other fundamentalist groups realize that a world of educated women is not one in which their tired bigotries and old privileges will survive.
The girls must be brought home. They must have the chance to return to the people who love them and to finish school – to become the dangers to a sexist world that they were meant to be.
This op-ed by Diana Duarte, MADRE's Communications Director originally appeared on Common Dreams.