Thursday, August 7, 2014

School's Out by Alison Boulton

For various reasons, my blog this week is belated, but I am taking the opportunity of posting with her consent an article written by a friend of mine, who is an occasional columnist for the Oxford Mail. Here it is: School’s out, and Oxford rejoices in its young families and confident, sassy teenagers. The summer stretches ahead with its long, lazy days and reversal of routine. Spare a thought for those other schoolchildren somewhere in the forests of Northern Nigeria: the 223 young girls snatched from their school in Chibok at gunpoint, and taken by force into the jungle, separated from everything they know, and faced with a new world order: subjugated in religion, lifestyle, liberty and matrimony. With their adult lives ahead of them: education promised them something infinitely precious: freedom of choice. Choice of career, marriage partner, location and belief – all have been seized – snuffed out in their brutal abduction by Boko Haram soldiers. The name means rejection of Western Education. But have they and their imagined futures been obliterated forever? It’s not yet clear. They may never be heard of again: their young lives and hopes absorbed in a new society. The old society of their families, religion and state may reject them yet: too difficult to extract, to rehabilitate, to marry off, blighted by alien captivity. For centuries, women have been carried off by force, and if kept alive, integrated into the societies of their captors – the spoils of war. The remarkable thing is that in an age when Michelle Obama – the wife of the most powerful man in the world - can pose with a slogan card that reads ‘Bring Back our Girls’ for a global audience, the Nigerian Government seems powerless to act effectively to both protect and rescue these, its most vulnerable and innocent citizens. Courageous teenage campaigner Malala Yousafzai has flown from Britain to Nigeria to highlight the missing girls’ plight, meeting President Goodluck Jonathan, in an attempt to refocus the world’s attention and action on behalf of Malala’s fellow school girls. When she visited Oxford some months ago, Malala spoke of the hunger for education among girls worldwide – and the lack of opportunities so many face. While Oxford students rose to their feet and applauded her before she’d said a word, Malala looked around the famously shabby Debating Chamber of Oxford Union - with awe. Standing beneath a portrait of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated President of Pakistan, and one-time President of the Union, Malala declared the following: ‘Superpowers should not be judged on the size of their armies, or the range and power of their nuclear arsenals. They should be judged on the number of children in school. That is what I would like to see,’ She spoke of the beauty of Pakistan’s Swat Valley which she and her family were forced to leave after the attack on her school bus by the Taliban, which left her severely injured, and several of her school friends too. What kind of political or religious movement targets school children? Two at least – Boko Haram and the Taliban - who are gaining political power. Both seek to obliterate womens’ education. So Oxford, enjoy your school holidays. You don’t know how lucky you are to have a school to return to in the autumn.

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