It has been a month since a group of over 200 Nigerian school girls were brutally kidnapped by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram. The teenage girls are reportedly “being married off or even sold for as little as $12 to be wives to Boko Haram militants.” Despite this horrifying situation, it took the international community several weeks to pay attention to the missing girls.
Over the past week or so, the world has finally stood up and taken notice of the missing girls. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has exploded over social media, with celebrities and public figures speaking out in support of the missing girls. First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of the hashtag, and dedicated last week's address to the girls. The increased attention is putting pressure on the Nigerian government, which had only weakly responded to the kidnapping, to finally take action to help find the girls.
Grassroots activists are also getting involved in the movement, and last night they held a rally in Austin in support of the missing girls. The rally was organized with help from Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, an organization dedicated to inspiring confidence in young women. On the steps of the Capitol, attendees read the names of the girls and voiced their support for international action to bring them back home.
Read more about the rally, and learn how you can get involved in the movement to #BringBackOurGirls after the jump. The rally was organized by Austin-area activist Natasha Sharma. Sharma felt a personal connection to the girls, and felt it was important to bring an international spotlight to the issue.
“It saddened me to hear about how these young girls with bright futures have been abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram. It is unfortunate that President Goodluck Jonathan took so long to act on this pressing issue. Like many other people around the world, I wanted to help motivate the Nigerian government to take further action,” said Sharma.
It was also important to Sharma to show solidarity for the missing girls. She wanted to highlight the community's concern for their safety. “I hope the attendees felt they had an opportunity to express themselves. The objective of the rally was to advocate for the girls, demonstrate support for the families, and give the event guests a chance to share their thoughts and opinions,” Sharma explained.
To Sharma, the most important part of the rally was when she read the names of each of the girls aloud on the Capitol steps. “There is something so personal about seeing the names,” she said. “It reminds you that these girls are people, just like you, and not some random, distant statistic.”
There were about 40 people at Tuesday's rally, making it the largest one that has taken place in Austin so far. But this rally is just the first step in bringing attention to the Nigerian girls here in Central Texas. Another rally will be held at the Capitol this Saturday at 11 am. It's being organized by the Austin Nigerian Women's Association. People who are planning to attend are being asked to wear green and white, Nigeria's national colors, in solidarity.
For those in Austin who want to be a part of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, attending Saturday's rally is a good first step. Sharma also encourages people to continue using social media to put pressure on the international community to act. In addition, she stresses the “importance of writing to senators and encouraging them to address issues relating to violence against women, both locally and internationally.”
It is because of grassroots activists like Sharma and the others at the rally that international pressure to find the girls is building. The movement has once again shown the power of online organizing and advocacy to provide a voice for those who need it. The world is speaking out and saying that it's time to #BringBackOurGirls.