Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Women of Nigeria made the world pay attention

By Frida Ghitis
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage. Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage.
HIDE CAPTION
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Women of Nigeria got the world to pay attention to mass kidnapping of girls
  • Ghitis: Women endure the brunt of the worst aspects of repression and exploitation
  • But women in many repressive countries are fighting back against injustice, she says
  • Ghitis: Pushback from women's groups combined with social media gets results

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Women are not powerless. Look at Nigeria.

It's impossible not to be outraged by the capture of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by a terrorist group, and by the inexcusable delay in pursuing the armed men who took them. For women, in particular, the continuing drama has ignited a particularly powerful response.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Women in many countries are vulnerable and victimized, but they are fighting back in unexpected places with the built-up fury of long held frustration. And they are getting results. Women are no longer powerless.

Let there be no doubt: The reason the United States is sending help, Nigeria is accepting it and the entire world is paying attention is that the women of Nigeria demanded it.

Nigerian women from the town of Chibok in the northeastern Borno state, the mothers, sisters, relatives and friends of the schoolgirls, launched their protests and set off the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that swept away weeks of international apathy.

At a rally in Abuja, one woman held up a sign that read "Can Anyone Hear Me?" The long-delayed answer was a most emphatic "Yes," which resonated across the oceans and echoed in the Nigerian presidential palace.

Malala: 'Girls in Nigeria are my sisters'
Nigerian CEO on Boko Haram
Clinton: Nigeria must find missing girls

Sure, the decisions are mostly up to male politicians, but in Washington, all the women members of the Senate, 20 of them, signed a letter to the president of the United States demanding a firm response. They did it without hesitation and without regard to political affiliation.

The tragedy of the Nigerian girls was grotesquely highlighted in a video by a laughing Abubakr Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram. He declared "Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women."

The revolting message encapsulated the distilled essence of women's plight in many corners of the world. And the response shows a phenomenon of both spontaneous and organized pushback from women's groups, from the millions of men who join them, and from the forces that social media can unleash across cyberspace.

It is a movement that begins with the grassroots, moves into cyberspace and powers its way into the halls of power.

Women have had enough. There is a reason that Malala Yousefzai has become a major international figure, a hero especially to women. It is, of course, about her bravery. Gunmen belonging to the Pakistani Taliban boarded the bus that was bringing the 14-year-old champion of girls' education and her friends from school. They shot her in the face. The Taliban oppose girls' education with that obsessive fervor displayed by the most radical Islamist groups, who want to take all Muslims back to the 7th century.

They could not kill her and they could no silence her. Instead, they made her stronger, and they made her voice louder.

In Afghanistan, when the Taliban came to power, one of its first acts was to shut down women's schools and ban women from universities. They did it under the guise of enforcing Islamic rules.

Religious pretexts are common. But they are nothing more than an excuse. Like the Taliban, Boko Haram finds it particularly offensive that girls should receive an education. Shenkau appears on the latest video holding his AK-47, offering his considered advice. "Girls should go and get married," he said, adding he would give them in marriage "at the age of 9"...at the age of 12, "because they are our slaves."

It's no wonder frustration is boiling over. Consider the recent news from Indonesia's Aceh province, where a woman was raped by eight men as punishment for having an affair. Now an official Shariah court has sentenced her to a humiliating public caning.

Women are fed up. And it's not all about the work of Muslim extremists. In late 2012, emotions boiled over in India after the horrific gang rape of a student riding a city bus in Mumbai. The woman came to be known as Nirbhaya, which means "the fearless one," in Hindi.

Nirbhaya, who had left home to study physiotherapy, had plans to show the Indian people that a woman could realize her dreams. She was planning to give free health care to the poor. Instead, she died at 23, when six men on the bus she took with her boyfriend attacked her with such brutality that she died from internal injuries.

Nirbhaya shook India's women. She jolted the country. In massive demonstrations Indian women joined by thousands of men demanded the government take action to stop the epidemic of rape. The world was horrified. The government vowed to act, but there is much left to be done in a country dominated by men on all spheres of society.

Women endure the brunt of the worst aspects of repression and exploitation. As many as 30 million people are slaves today. Most of them are sex slaves working in brothels and enduring other forms of captivity. And 98% of the sex slaves are women and girls.

Cases like the Nigerian girls, still unaccounted for, and millions sold into bondage are the most urgent, the most dramatic. But they are only a part of the problem. They are so outrageous, so offensive, that they leave no room for moral equivocation.

Just a few days ago, the world was barely paying attention to Nigeria's abducted schoolgirls. Today, the whole world is watching, help is on the way. That is what the women of Nigeria have accomplished -- not quite what Boko Haram had in mind.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT