#BringBackOurGirls: Why We Should Care More About International Crises Before They Become Hashtags

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With an estimated 276* school girls abducted from a school in northern Nigerian still missing, the world now watches, horrified, as terror group Boko Haram continues to hold these young women hostage.

We don’t know their fate, and as we wait for them to be returned home safely to their families, we must confront an even bigger question: Is there something that we could have done to prevent this incident from occurring in the first place?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

Although we’ve now reacted to the horrific mass kidnapping — both Britain and the US pledged to send assistance to the Nigerian government following their inability to bring the militants to justice — the truth is that violations against the rights of women and girls were happening long before this grisly act.

Had we paid more attention to the news developing out of the region, had we made the problems of decreasing literacy rates and increased insecurity our issues too, then perhaps Boko Haram’s actions might have been curtailed before they succeeded with one of the most publicized acts of violence against females today.

But the fact remains: In a world where appearances are everything, it looks as though the old adage, "Out of sight, out of mind" holds true. If we don’t see women being exploited, then we don’t empathize enough to act before the situation worsens to irreversible injustice.

It’s not just that young schoolgirls were kidnapped and possibly sold into marriage in neighboring countries in Africa. It’s that marital rape is still legal in India, Iraq might soon see a law that enables the marriage of girls as young as 9 and female genital mutilation — the crude removal of the clitoris — is still a common practice in an alarming amount of places.

So where is the outrage and the international support for these women and girls?

Women Under Siege Director Lauren Wolfe took to Twitter in an impassioned series of tweets describing her feelings on how young women’s issues are often ignored:

“If we didn't put so much emphasis on the ‘purity’ of girls, they wouldn't be so easily weaponized. And they'd have a chance at autonomy.”

“And don't tell me this is about Sharia law or Islam or whatever bigoted excuse you have. This is about misplacing the worth of girls & women.”

When women’s issues are seen as just that — something that only concerns or affects half of this world’s population — we’ll continue to neglect their importance, only seeking justice when something big enough comes along to shake us from our complacency.

From our own realities, it’s much easier to only become engaged when a situation is so bad it becomes a sign of pop-culture coolness to get involved. But as many have been quick to point out, tweeting #BringBackOurGirls won’t bring back the 200-some* females — many not even yet adults — who were kidnapped in April.

It’s true, the dialogue currently transpiring via social media channels and other news stories brings important awareness to an issue that’s been long-ignored. But the intervention that appears to be too-little, too-late for the girls in Nigeria isn’t even something we’re offering to the other women of the world, who continue to face discriminatory laws and social practices in their communities every single day, without our acknowledgement or offered assistance.

In an article penned for Foreign Policy, Wolfe again captures a general sentiment of outrage — not for the silence from the international community immediately following the Nigerian girls’ abduction (the first article in The New York Times, for example, ran two days after the fact), but for the issues (unsexy as they may be) that we continue to ignore, until there’s one violation so heinous or one crime so significant we feel we can no longer comfortably turn that blind eye.

"As that becomes evident, all the outcry over 'why aren't we paying attention' starts to look like it's part of a deeper public distress: Why have we not paid attention in the past when thousands of girls — and boys —  have been abducted in armed conflict?

Why aren't we paying attention, right now, to the girls caught in human trafficking webs or sold into early marriages or held in captivity as 'wives' by armed groups? Why are we only now outraged? And will this outrage sustain itself as situations like this one unendingly arise? Will any amount of anger lead to any concrete solution?"

Wolfe’s greater point is that for every #BringBackOurGirls (not unlike the equally-short lived #Kony2012) campaign, these facts are still an unfortunate reality for so many young women all over the world.

Crimes against women and girls are terrible, everyday occurrences. They are common, and what’s even worse, they’re often underreported and unpunished.

Women and girls constitute a group in society — and especially in societies in developing countries — that we tend to ignore. In the instances in which women’s issues become part of a larger dialogue or international outrage, we tend to use the event to channel our own political values or agenda.

But why do we have to wait for these issues to get out of hand? Instead of contributing to meaningful and lasting solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems, we wait until there’s an international incident of epic proportions before getting involved.

This might be getting us into a greater discussion about Western intervention and recent evidence that the United States’ reach is not all-encompassing or always welcome. But despite these realities, it still isn’t right that everyone isn’t incensed by the blatant and everyday injustices that so many women and girls face around the world.

*Editor’s Note: The actual figure of Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted varies from source to source, but US intelligence estimates that number to be 276.