It has been more than a month since Boko Haram militants kidnapped nearly 300 girls from their school in Nigeria. The social media cry for justice #BringBackOurGirls has fostered global attention; however some have criticized the campaign claiming it is low level information that does not offer any real purpose. It has been argued that hashtag activism is lazy, frictionless, and functions more as a self-serving public acknowledgment of concern rather than an act for justice. Likewise, it has been stated that it is the privileged outsider rather than those who need help that launches campaigns like #BringBackOurGirls. I won’t deny that such critiques do have a basis; however we must also acknowledge that #BringBackOurGirls is making an impact.
Although the kidnapping occurred on April 15th, the Nigerian government did not acknowledge it publicly for three weeks and international aid was initially rejected. It was not until two Nigerians tweeted #BringBackOurDaughters on April 23rd that this atrocity began to receive attention. News that Boko Haram terrorists planned to sell each girl into marriage for $12 forced the story into the international eye and the hashtag morphed into #BringBackOurGirls; within days it was being shared around the globe. Since #BringBackOurGirls began to receive attention through social media, Nigeria has been promised assistance by the U.S., U.K., France, Israel, and China to aid the search for the missing girls. Awareness is being raised about the ongoing violence against women and girls around the globe and a hashtag has spurred people into action.
I will not argue that hashtag activism should not be critiqued; skepticism and vigilance are warranted. However, we must also acknowledge its impact and the good that results from these social media campaigns. In response to #BringBackOurGirls, a global rally will take place on May 22nd to “show the world that all school girls can make a difference as they march for the Nigerian School girls who were kidnapped.” It is interesting that a hashtag could spur a global movement that brings people together across borders to acknowledge that every person’s human rights should be honored. That should count for something.
Check the listings to see if a rally is taking place near you. If there is, join your community in the call for justice; if there is not, organize an event and call your community together to demand the safe return of these girls. If you are in the Cleveland area, join us at Ursuline College; we will rally at 4:30pm.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D., is Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She has authored multiple articles, the book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence (Acumen, 2014), and is co-editor (with Rosemary Radford Ruether) of the forthcoming anthology, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2014). Her WATER Teleconference, “In Search of Healing: Confronting Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence,” can be accessed here. Gina’s research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence. She is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences, and in the national news circuit including appearances on Tavis Smiley and MSNBC. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the globe. She continues to be active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing for those who have encountered gender-based violence. Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.