When you educate a girl, you educate a nation

As I write this, I am preparing to travel with my colleagues to Nigeria, where I will have the honor of meeting some of the Chibok girls who were released after two waves of negotiations between Boko Haram and Nigerian government officials. It is my fourth trip to Nigeria since April 14, 2014, when the terrorist group shocked the world by abducting nearly 300 schoolgirls from their dormitory rooms. More than three years later, 113 of the original 276 Chibok girls are still being held captive.

Many of the girls who escaped their kidnappers on that fateful night or have since been released have remarkably not allowed this hugely traumatic ordeal to diminish their determination to pursue an education. It is my mission to help ensure that they, and indeed every girl in Nigeria, have the opportunity to go as far as their desire to learn will take them.

Before Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office, the president-elect wrote in a New York Times op-ed about the urgent necessity to educate girls so that “they will grow up to be empowered through learning to play their full part as citizens of Nigeria and pull themselves up and out of poverty.” He rightly surmised that the country owed at least that much to the Chibok schoolgirls, whose fate at that time was gravely uncertain. I look forward to working with the nation’s activists and government leaders to examine ways to help Buhari keep that pledge.

There is an African proverb that says, “If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family— and a whole nation.” Fifty percent of Nigeria’s population is female, so it borders on the absurd to not push for them to receive the “best possible education” that Buhari promised in his opinion piece. They will in turn ensure that their children— boys and girls— are educated, which as the proverb suggests will greatly benefit both their families and ultimately the nation by equipping it with a workforce that is prepared to help undo the extensive damage that has occurred during Boko Haram’s reign of terror.

A lack of education has been a key factor in Boko Haram’s ongoing ability to successfully recruit young men and boys and continue to replenish losses incurred in battle with the Multinational Joint Task Force. While the insurgents teach boys, that “Western education is sinful,” educated mothers are living examples of the critical role education plays in determining one’s future success. Those boys grow up viewing a world full of possibility and opportunities and are therefore extremely unlikely to see the appeal of becoming a terrorist.

Girls can change the world and there is no better example of that than the young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was famously shot in the head at age 16 for daring to question the Taliban’s efforts to deny her right to an education. In addition to becoming the first recipient of her country’s peace prize, being named one of Time magazine’s most influential people, and receiving the United Nations Human Rights Award, she is the world’s youngest Nobel laureate. Malala has earned global acclaim for championing education for girls around the world, including Nigeria, and after completing her studies at Oxford University will return to her native Pakistan to continue those efforts.

It is my hope that the Chibok girls, some of whom met with Malala this summer, will be inspired to follow her path, one on which tragedy is turned into triumph.

Frederica Wilson represents Florida’s 24th congressional district, including parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. You can follow Rep. Wilson on Twitter @RepWilson.

Remember the Chibok Girls!

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.)

Courtesy Photo/NNPA

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.)

— On Thursday, April 14, 2017, the world marked three years since Boko Haram terrorists burst into dormitory rooms at the Government Secondary School in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok and kidnapped nearly 300 girls simply because they dared to get an education. In the days leading up to this date, there will likely be plenty of headlines devoted to the Chibok girls, as these now young women are famously known. This happens each time we reach yet another sad milestone: 500 days, one year, two years, 1000 days, and counting. Soon after, however, the news reports will fade and this ongoing tragedy will slip once more to the backburner.

The 195 Chibok girls who haven’t been able to escape their captives or were not among the 21 released last October, are still the most compelling symbols of the Boko Haram insurgency, but we must never forget that the group has committed increasingly heinous acts in the past three years from which innumerable victims may never recover. Let me count the ways.

More than 2.6 million people are currently displaced across Nigeria and its neighbor nations in the Lake Chad region, and Nigeria is in the process of building a comprehensive orphanage to house approximately 8,000 children who’ve been separated from their parents. At least one million children have been forced out of school. Millions more Africans are at risk of starving to death and countless men, women and children all of ages, both Christians and Muslims, have been kidnapped, tortured, and/or killed.

It gets worse. In addition to engaging in the human trafficking of women, forcing them into sexual and domestic slavery, the insurgents also use children as suicide bombers. Even ISIS, to whom Boko Haram has pledged allegiance, has expressed concern that the group goes too far.

As a mother, a former educator, and indeed, a human being, I have felt heartbroken, shocked and angered by the daily horrors our West African sisters and brothers have been forced to endure. The actions of the world’s most deadly terrorist group have also emboldened me to use my voice and every resource available in the fight to ensure that the Chibok girls are not forgotten and to help eradicate Boko Haram and repair the damage it has caused.

I have traveled twice to Nigeria to meet with victims’ families and government officials and brought the BringBackOurGirls movement to the United States. Each week that Congress is in session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle participate in a “Wear Something Red Wednesday” social media campaign that helps maintain pressure on the Nigerian government to keep working to negotiate the release of the remaining Chibok girls and pull out all stops to defeat Boko Haram.

On December 14, 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and I sponsored that directs the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense to jointly develop a five-year strategy to aid the Nigerian government, the Multinational Joint Task Force created to combat Boko Haram, and international partners who’ve offered their support to counter the regional threat the terrorists pose.

In a telephone conversation between President Donald J. Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in February, the two leaders pledged “to continue close coordination and cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria,” according to a readout from the White House. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also has reportedly praised the Multinational Joint Task Force’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram a “success story,” but while the terrorist group may be down, it is far from out.

On June 12, we will mark another milestone in this terrible saga. That is the day the State and Defense departments’ five-year plan is due. It also is the deadline for the director of National Intelligence to assess the willingness and capability of Nigeria and its regional partners to implement the strategies outlined. We must use our collective voice to ensure they don’t miss this urgent deadline.

By now you may be asking yourself why any of this should matter to African Americans who are fighting their own battles to close the economic and opportunity gaps that still exist here at home and to exercise fundamental rights like the right to vote. Some of you may have never even heard of the Chibok girls. But if we don’t, who will? If we don’t teach the world to acknowledge that Black lives matter across the globe, who will? Until then, it will continue to cry for victims of terrorism in European nations, the Middle East and even Russia, while African and African-American lives lost go ignored.

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and represents parts of northern Miami-Dade and southeast Broward counties. She serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.