Nigerian Kidnapping and the Impact of #BringBackOurGirls

Nigerian Kidnapping and the Impact of #BringBackOurGirls

The social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls has gained worldwide momentum since more than 250 teenaged girls were abducted from their school in Nigeria last month. The Islamic terror organization Boko Haram is taking credit for the kidnapping, and its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has said he plans to sell the girls into marriages and slavery.

The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has been criticized for waiting weeks to ask for international assistance to rescue the girls.  The search for the young women now includes U.S. surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. With millions of people reacting to the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, University of Houston professor Garth Jowett says the coalescing of worldwide opinion has been significant in spurring action.

“If nothing else, this campaign has shamed the Nigerian government into taking action,” said Jowett, a communication professor at the University of Houston’s Jack J. Valenti School of Communication.  “It is yet an another example of the potential power that social media has in creating vastly new aggregations of people, basically new ‘audiences’ of tens of millions, in a very short period of time.”

The 2014 graduating class of the University of Houston (UH) Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) chose to stand together in support of the kidnapped girls at their commencement ceremony on May 9th. The graduates and their families posed for pictures featuring the hashtag and posted the photos to social media. UH GCSW clinical assistant professor Donna Amtsberg organized the college’s show of solidarity.

“It’s their first, global, political and social advocacy work as graduates. These girls were kidnapped at school, reportedly because they were receiving a Western education,” said Amtsberg.  “What better way for social workers to start off their careers than to stand up collectively and say we need to throw our support behind these families?”

Further Comments From Professor Donna Amtsberg:

Like many Americans I have been watching this story unfold on the nightly news and am repeatedly struck by the images of Nigerian families mourning the kidnapping of their daughters.   I am equally struck by the images and words spoken by other Nigerian school girls who still face the possibility of being kidnapped themselves, but insist on going to school because they love to learn.

Time is marching on and as of yet, there is no foreseeable end to this tragedy; yet even if all the girls were returned tomorrow, the trauma of this experience will live on in each girl and each family member.  Trauma does not just come and go – it lives and breathes within us, and while some research supports the resilience of humans, and that by being returned to a loving environment the traumatic memories will diminish some, it is short-sighted of us to think that the trauma will disappear just because the story eventually will disappear.

The GCSW’s graduating class of 2014 chose to make a very public and personal statement on their special day.  They chose to stand up and openly state their support for the girls and their families on a day that was to be “all about them”.  That’s what education does for us; it opens us up to others, reminding us that the world is so much bigger than just what we see.   And this is what a social work education does for us; it moves us to take steps to support others, whether they are in the next county or the next continent.   The men who have kidnapped the girls understand the power of education; but so do the girls. They deserve to pursue their education in a safe and nurturing environment.  And their families deserve to have them returned to them.  #Bring Back Our Girls

Professor Jowett is an expert in propaganda and co-author of the book, “Propaganda and Persuasion.” His area of research and teaching includes the history of communications and popular culture, propaganda studies and the role of media in modern society. 

Professor Amtsberg is an expert in child trauma, social policy, macro social work practice and political social work. Her research interests include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, family violence and crisis intervention.