Women,Violence and Education:The Politics of Empathy

Giacomo_Ceruti_-_Women_Working_on_Pillow_Lace_(The_Sewing_School)_-_WGA4672

Only when lions have historians will Hunters cease to be heroes.    African Proverb

 

 

This Spring delivered worldwide tragedies,  collecting western press attention, sometimes obsession, often releasing waves of compassion and support into the international community.

A Malaysian plane disappearing.  A South Korean ferry filled with celebrating teens capsizing. Deadly mudslides and tornadoes in the United States.  Earthquake and fire in Chile.

These much documented events developed as Syria, Central Africa, the Mideast, South Asia, in fact the world, continued to roil in conflict.

US media zealously displayed the emergence of a “new cold war” between the United States and Russia, a monumental clash of personalities: Putin and Obama.

But world media largely ignored the capture of hundreds of young women and girls in Nigeria.  The international press  highlighted the horror almost immediately. Leading United States outlets such as the New York Times and NPR gave consumers brief  note of the tragedy.  But, the “missing schoolgirl crisis” did not become a media event until two weeks of “inadequate response ” by the Nigerian government.

Some suggest the grief-stricken cries of  the parents along with the empowering challenge of  the female education activist, Malala Yousafzai, engaged the Nigerian diaspora triggering world-wide political protests, online campaigns and a twitter hashtag program engaging celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Justin Timberlake.

Nicholas Kristof on Sunday called for United States intervention.  The United States Government, on the eve of a  Global Economic Conference scheduled in southern Nigeria, has agreed to offer support along with France and Britain.  Promises for assistance do not suggest immediate results will follow despite the well appreciated powers of the US anti terror machinery. Headlines across the press, television, radio and online media herald United States intervention.  Few understand initial efforts are limited to ten specialists.

One may be justifiably perplexed about how a world power which can locate a well protected target such as bin Laden can be limited in abilities to find young women in difficult terrain.

United States relations with Nigeria are not simple.

Black hats are easily placed on the criminals.  Boko Haram, generally translated as “forbid western education,”  as a  group initially represented protest against a class based society in which the wealthy alone were educated, generally in western capitals.  The educated returned as leaders who, to the founders of Boka Haram’s view,   impoverished and subjugated the population.  There is general agreement that this political mission has been abandoned for a criminal enterprise of murder, rape and greed.

The issue for the media and the US government has been whether or not the Nigerian establishment can justly wear a white hat and be “deserving” of US assistance.  Nigerian ties to “radical” muslim groups, its own repressive policies and history,  and the economic challenges in the country suggest strategic and opportunistic issues for the government.  The sincere may also raise human rights concern.

But the young women remain in danger.

The abductors and torturers of the women and girls are alleged to have connections with international organizations interested in imposing sharia law on populations. The Nigerian government is also alleged to have abused women and girls of the Boko Harman to punish its militants.

Raping, mutilating and enslaving women is a time-honored tradition of war across society. This is a fact which should not be lost as the world finally turns its attention to the plight of these young women.

Of course, education is vital to any society.  Like the water of the natural world, education serves as the basis for any and all development.  Without education of the population, a civilization cannot be sustained.

Fundamentally, however, the abduction and torture, the enslavement and sale of these  young women is not an issue of female education.  It is an issue of violence against women.

We need be watchful of campaigns such as “protect our girls” for the implicit paternalism which has historically generated cultures of violence. We need to  also speak loudly and unequivocally for peace, for a refusal to tolerate sexual or physical violence against women.

This terrible tragedy has caused pain and loss to parents, brothers, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, cousins.  We must be mindful of the personal nature of that pain which surely must be fraught with images of the horrible violence inflicted on the child.

Ironically, in the massively educated west, media and government manipulation of this tragedy seeks to suggest appropriate targets for empathy and political action.

The resulting campaign for educational access for women is certainly vital .

It is difficult to learn to read, however, at the point of a gun.

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