These Women Are Doing What Boko Haram Hates Most

February 4th 2015

Alicia Lutes

Every once in awhile you get punched in the face with perspective. So often we here in the Western world take for granted our free speech and access to education. We forget that — fraught as the feminist debate can often be — we are afforded incredible rights compared to others around the world. Like the girls of Chibok, Nigeria who were captured by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014 — the event that sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign — and in particular, sisters Asabe and Ruth, who not only managed to flee their kidnapping, but are going back to the one place Boko Haram never, ever wants them to go: school.

For those of you ignorant to the abduction of 219 Chibok school girls by the militant, extremist Islamic movement currently terrorizing parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, allow us to give a bit of context. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf and currently led by Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram is vehemently against education and the reading of any book other than the Quran (their name roughly translates to — depending on who you ask — either "forbidden book" or "western education forbidden"). In fact, in a 2009 interview before his death that same year, Yusuf went on record rejecting the theory of evolution, the science behind rain, and the idea that the Earth is a sphere (even though it was alleged that he was well-educated with a graduate degree). It wasn't until April 30 — when news broke that the girls would likely be given to Islamic militants as wives (read: sex slaves) or sold off at local markets — that the international media finally took note.


But sisters Asabe and Ruth, who were both students at the Government Girls Secondary School, were lucky. They managed to escape and, according to an interview with The Guardian, "learned to sleep in the bush to avoid potential night-time raids. By day, they roamed for miles under the unforgiving sun so they would not be around if the men with machine guns swooped in again."

It's best to read and hear the escaped women explain it in their own words in an interview with YouTuber Fisayo Soyombo:

And like the inspirational, total freakin' heroes they are, Asabe and Ruth — and several other girls; 21 in total — are back to school, standing up for freedom, education, and against those that attempted to oppress them.

They fight on even after Boko Haram's repeated threats that the students and their families would be killed if they continued attending school. Because Boko Haram knows there is no stronger way to keep militant oppression intact than by denying education, which is exactly why these incredible women will risk death to go to school. And it's all thanks to the personal quest of the sister of a fellow kidnapped girl, Godiya, an employee at the American University of Nigeria — with her ability to disseminate these scholarships largely due to AUN employee Margee Ensign and the foundation she formed to educate as many of the 55 girls that avoided and/or fled capture.

But it wasn't easy, considering the atmosphere Godiya was up against. "Mary's family were initially horrified at the offer," The Guardian story explains. "A crowd began to heckle her as Godiya tried to convince them. Some residents recalled how Boko Haram had ambushed and beheaded two psychologists sent by the government to help the traumatized inhabitants." So remember that next time you feel like skipping class or something.

Women are important. Education is important. Africa is important. And it is vital we shed light, as often as we can, on the atrocities that still happen there. After all, education is an incredibly powerful weapon.