Approximately a month since the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram snatched over 200 secondary schoolgirls (ages 8 to 15) from their dormitories one quiet evening in Chibok, Nigeria, the entire world continues to seek any signs and whereabouts of their location and return. Not many clues have been given since the initial raid, except for a handful of crude sightings reported by bystanders and two videos released on May 5th and May 12th by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. In the video he monologues his responsibility for the kidnapping, justifying Boko Haram’s actions through their faith and religion, as well as threatening to sell off the girls as child brides. The video also depicts a shot of the schoolgirl victims of the atrocity, clothed in traditional Islamic wardrobes such as hijabs and chadors, indicating that a forced religious conversion of the majority-Christian students took place.
As new as Boko Haram seems to the rest of the world, Nigeria has actually been struggling to control their schemes since its founding in 2001. Although the Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff officially announced a successful location of the kidnapped girls, they still reject any forceful rescue attempt for the girls, in fear of collateral damage; in contrast to the minimal governmental involvement, attempts by the global community to raise awareness of these abductions have surfaced. Not only have everyday civilians participated in raising awareness, but high-profile celebrities, political figures, and world leaders took to social media to spread the news of the abductions, tweeting the hashtag “#bringbackourgirls” throughout the world.
Public figures ranging from First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, R&B artist Alicia Keys, and actor Ashton Kutcher recently participated in the trending hashtag, posting solemnly-depicted self-portraits while displaying signs that display “bring back our girls” to “real men don’t buy girls.”
Upon an initial glance, it seems that the spreading trend is actually working. Within a matter of days, the hashtag attracted 2.3 million tweets, reaching a global scale. Subsequently, this equals 2.3 million more people who now have heard the news of the atrocities through the hashtag, reaching a remarkable amount of social awareness.
Yet looking into the deeper aspects of the situation reveals that the calamities are not over yet, despite the raising awareness; the girls are still kidnapped away from their families, Boko Haram still continues to dangerously roam, and religious tension still remains unsettled.
One must wonder why an issue so prominent in the media still remains unsolved. While the efforts that the global community continues to make in spreading the news seem to show genuine empathy, raising awareness stops just at that: raising awareness. What is missing is an aspect that the greatest educators, thinkers, and leaders consistently stress—the significance of understanding and education. The difference between awareness and understanding is that while awareness makes the issues visible, understanding provides the empowerment to progress with the steps to pursue action. Once the cause of the issue is deeply perceived, the drive to restore is created.
Although the usage of social media can help bring widespread attention to the cause, what the global community needs is an outlet in understanding the central factors of the Boko Haram attacks, that the heart of the attacks also involve deeper issues such as religious conflict, child trafficking, women’s suffrage, and numerous others. Perhaps the media and society should turn their point of view towards addressing and understanding the focal point of the problem, instead of just viewing the surface. If these conflicts continue unsettled, then these atrocities will continue to occur in the future. But if the people understand the central aspect of the issues, then not only will the answers for stopping Boko Haram and rescuing the girls rise, but also the solution to preventing these tragedies from happening again.