NYSUT and AFT are supporting a campaign that is moving across the country, calling for the return of more than 300 teenage girls kidnapped from their schools by terrorists in northern Nigeria. Union members in all parts of the United States are documenting their support with a photo or a poster message and submitting it to the AFT site “Bring Back Our Girls.”
The girls have been kidnapped within the last month “simply for having the courage to attend school,” the AFT and Education International said in a joint statement. “The world is now desperate for news of their whereabouts and prays for their safe return to their homes and families. We would like you to join us in this global call for these girls to be released …”
Support can be shown through submission of words, photos of people holding signs, or a brief message in support of the kidnapped school girls. All contributors are asked to include the phrase #BringBackOurGirls” somewhere prominently in their message.
“We want to build on the awareness the press and the politicians are showing,” said Paul Pecorale, NYSUT vice president. “We need to continue to do our best to force more actions to bring these students home.”
First Lady Michelle Obama has joined the campaign, and so has British Prime Minister David Cameron after being handed a poster by a CNN international correspondent. Both U.S. and U.K. have teams in Nigeria to help find the teenage girls.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said AFT members are outraged about the “abhorrent, unconscionable and morally reprehensible” actions – including their threats to sell the girls into slavery just because they were going to school. The students were taken by Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group claiming capture of the girls.
The majority of the girls were taken from their school in Chibok on April 14, and others have been kidnapped since from other locations. Raids and abductions in other Nigeran towns have resulted in 11 more students being kidnapped on May 6.
In a May 7 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson told him the AFT welcomes his “pledge of U.S. assistance to the Nigerian government to ensure these children can be returned to their communities, and the perpetrators brought to justice.”
The abductions, she said, have “resonated with our members, who are shocked by the kidnapping itself, and deeply concerned about the larger issue of continuing threats to girls and young women as they seek to improve their lives through education,” Johnson said.
The threat to girls receiving education has been a concern in many poor or militant countries for many years. In 2013, NYSUT had Shabana Basij-Rasikh speak to delegates at the Representative Assembly as a global ambassador supporting girls’ education. She established a school for girls in her native Afghanistan, the School of Leadership because she believes education is the way to transform a country. Solutions, she said, come from educated citizens, especially women, because they educate their families and communities in turn.
In 2012, teenager Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager, was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls. She survived the attack is still speaking out internationally in support of human rights.