The kidnapping of the 276 predominantly Christian schoolgirls by Islamic terror group Boko Haram is an atrocity, but it is not the first atrocity they have committed. It is just the first one to trip the West’s interest switch. A girl’s right to an education has become an important pillar in western ideology, and an important pawn in the battle against radical Islam. It is why Malala has seen herself elevated to an almost saint-like position.
The recent kidnappings have enraged western sensibilities, because they desecrate hallowed ideas about female equality. The West has responded in the only way it knows how: a self-righteous selfie protest using the hashtag ‘Bring Back Our Girls’. Michelle Obama, Cara Delevingne, Jessica Biel and Anne Hathaway have all involved themselves in it. On a more pragmatic front, Britain announced this week that it would send in a small team of Whitehall experts (the subtext being that they are members of our intelligence services and Special Forces). In a toss-up between a selfie and the SAS, I know who I’d back to ‘bring back our girls’.
But Boko Haram – whose name means ‘western education is sinful’ – does not distinguish between the education of girls and boys. In February, the group attacked another school. After boarding up every exit, its men seized 59 boys and gunned them down or cut their throats with machetes. Some buildings were sealed up and set alight. The girls were ordered to go home, abandon their ‘wicked’ schooling and seek husbands.
Where was the selfie protest then? Or does a savage affront to male education matter less than a savage affront to female education? The answer should clearly be no. For equality to count, both boys and girls need to feel safe in school. By focusing only on the girls – ‘Our Girls’ – we forget the boys who are also in danger.