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Bring Back Our Girls – All Education Is Not Equal, Nor Emancipatory

 

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming – 2014.05.12

 

Let us be heedful whilst bandying about the term “Education” especially “female education” because like it or not, all education is not equal, nor emancipatory, writes Radio Islam’s umm Abdillah.

 

Pre-94 we were all educated in a similar manner, giving rise to the lingering heroism of white settler-master. The exploits of colonial, racist, Johan Anthoniszoon or “Jan” van Riebeeck sailing on the Dromedaris with two other ships, the Rejiger and De Goede Hoop, was par for the primary school history syllabus. Little did we learn back then that he denied the Khoisan rights and titles to their own land. Little were we encouraged to grow our rapacious young schoolchildren intellects, nor taught by our mechanical, dulled-to-submission school Madam’s and Sir’s about the plight or origins of the slaves traded on those three ships belonging to the Dutch East India Company – as the Vereenigde Oost-Indisch Compagnie (VOC) – sailed into Table Bay in 1652. We never knew anything of those poor souls who had been snatched away from family, friends and their familiar environment, and became the property of strangers.

 

“They could cohabit but not marry. Their production and reproduction was controlled. Children born to slaves were also slaves. Slaves could not even keep their own names. New names often showed the origin of the slave – Abraham van Malabar, Meij van Bengal, Willem van der Caab. Calendar names were also given, such as February, April and September. Others were given nicknames such as Dikbeen, Pasop, Fortuijn. These names were very demeaning and designed to keep the slave in his place.” [Source]

 

Re-appropriating History

 

However, in the recent past and presently there are many projects launched to re-appropriate the interpretation and writing of African histories and to demonstrate the contribution of African cultures past and present to the history of humanity at large.  The General History of Africa (GHA), a two-phase project undertaken by UNESCO from 1964 to the present day is one example of such work. It is hard work in progress.

 

Just as Justice and Equality are not the same things, and as equal education does not equate equal opportunity, we need to be as circumspect regarding the term “Education” particularly when it comes to discourses about Muslim girls.

 

The abduction of little girls is vile, wherever, and by whoever’s standard. The story of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram – “Western Education is Forbidden” has finally gained momentum with even Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie, and Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai jumping on the bandwagon. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls [Bring Back Our Girls] is being compared to #Kony2012, a social media campaign which started two years ago by the Western group Invisible Children to raise awareness of alleged war crimes by Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.  However, the drive to save the Nigerian girls has also been criticised for being similarly appropriated to grow Islamaphobia; reinforce the culture of fear of the black, bearded and robed man; and not given to global contexts.  For example, it turns out the young women in some photos used to highlight the kidnappings aren’t Nigerian. The photos were taken in 2011 for a reporting project in Guinea-Bissau.

 

Global Contexts

 

“Rights may be universal, but above all they are projects bounded by political contexts, institutions and language.”

 

In the book “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” which is applicable in this context especially, the author urges us to look at contexts shaped by global politics, international capital and modern state institutions that all contribute to changing landscapes of family and community. On our part, are we asking the right questions: How and why did Boko Haram emerge? Who funds them? Why do terrorist organisations like this resort to such warfare? Why have bribes been solicited and paid in the past?” Boko Haram is deliberately receiving more international attention than ever for its role in kidnapping these girls. Nigeria has done little to deliver the improvement in governance or service delivery needed to address Boko Haram’s grievances. Amnesty International just this March accused the army of killing some 600 people, mostly former detainees who were rounded up following a Boko Haram attack on army barracks. None of the men killed were given a trial before their death, the international rights group has claimed. Like author, Abu-Lughod reminds us: rights may be universal but above all they are projects bounded by political contexts, institutions and language.

 

The New York Times this Sunday, published a Nicholas Kristof op-ed titled What’s So Scary About Smart Girls? —

 

“What saddens me is that we in the West aren’t acting as rationally. To fight militancy, we invest overwhelmingly in the military toolbox but not so much in the education toolbox that has a far better record at defeating militancy. President Obama gives the green light to blow up terrorists with drones, but he neglects his 2008 campaign promise to establish a $2 billion global fund for education. I wish Republicans, instead of investigating him for chimerical scandals in Benghazi, Libya, would shine a light on his failure to follow through on that great idea.” “It’s estimated that 100,000 girls under 18 years old in the United States are trafficked into commercial sex each year. So let’s fight to #BringBackOurGirls in Nigeria but also here in the United States and around the world.”

 

Ultimately, we have all the world’s eyes and every mother’s heart in Nigeria at the moment. However, it would be an injustice and subterfuge to believe that every one of us supports the campaign for the same reasons. Western “education” and the right to it, isn’t at all the same as a holistic education, free of imperial agendas, and the overwhelming urgency for its delivery. After all, we have so many examples of the same ‘educated’ Nigerian girl going to America to have her self-respect and self-worth so damaged she’d buy fake hair and fake nails, skin whiteners, and use a fake name — then revel in her freedom. 

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