Skip to main content

How Boko Haram imperils Nigeria's future

By Melinda Gates
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
Weeks after the April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls, worried families and supporters blamed the government for not doing enough to find them. Their cries spread worldwide on social media under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement. Weeks after the April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls, worried families and supporters blamed the government for not doing enough to find them. Their cries spread worldwide on social media under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement.
HIDE CAPTION
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
'Bring Back Our Girls!'
Bring Back Our Girls
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Melinda Gates: Kidnapped girls in Nigeria reflect long use of women misused in conflicts
  • She says Boko Haram justifies actions as Islamic; this insult denounced by Muslim leaders
  • She says group thinks women are merely property; these ideas affect Nigeria's prosperity
  • Gates: Outcry over girls shows many know empowered women are key to a nation's fortunes

Editor's note: Melinda Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

(CNN) -- I think of myself as an "impatient optimist." There are times, however, when it's harder to muster the optimism, and the impatience takes over. That's how I felt when I read about the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram to be married off or sold into slavery.

It's difficult to pinpoint the worst aspect of this atrocity. And it's pitiful that this is nothing new. Treating women as spoils or weapons of war has been a common practice for thousands of years.

Boko Haram has sought to justify its actions as consistent with Islamic teachings, and this is an insult. Many influential voices in the Muslim world have rebuked the group's actions. (To cite just one example, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam's most prestigious theological institutions, said the kidnappings "completely contradict Islam and its principles of tolerance.")

Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates

It's frustrating that the Nigerian government, despite an intensifying effort to find the girls, has been unable to locate them. And it's horrifying that hundreds of girls, their parents and thousands of their relatives are living each passing moment in escalating fear -- with no idea whether they'll ever see each other again. My heart breaks for these mothers and fathers.

But perhaps the most awful part of the story is that Boko Haram stands against a better future for ordinary Nigerians.

Boko Haram is committed to the idea that women are the property of husbands and mere instruments of reproduction. They are particularly opposed to the idea that girls ought to be educated, which is why they target schools.

Village slaughter blamed on Boko Haram
Clinton: Nigeria must find missing girls
Village slaughter blamed on Boko Haram

In fact, when girls are educated and free to pursue their passions, they contribute more to a thriving society. When women have a voice, they raise it to demand a life that is greater than what they've been told they have a right to expect. And these demands change the future for everyone.

Nigeria has a population of 170 million. Its economy is the largest on the African continent. The future holds nearly boundless promise, as represented, in part, by the fact that the World Economic Forum is meeting in Abuja right now. But if the country's 85 million women and girls don't have the opportunity to seize their potential, then neither will Nigeria.

There are countless examples of places around the world where women and girls are gaining power and autonomy, where the future looks brighter because women and girls are slowly wiping away the old gender norms.

The impressive outpouring of support for the girls -- both within Nigerian communities and around the world -- is an encouraging sign that most people want the version of the future that empowered women and girls will create, not the version that Boko Haram is trying to impose.

It doesn't help the Nigerian schoolgirls now, but thinking about the women and girls everywhere who are strong and getting stronger is one way to maintain some of the optimism that must go along with our collective impatience.

Let's #BringBackOurGirls

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT