A Letter From Kate: Drowning Out Boko Haram

Here at Studio Kate, I’ve got Nigeria on the brain. I cannot stop thinking about the girls. I know these girls. They are the same age as my daughter. They are the same age as the girls I taught in Kenya 25 years ago. They are the girls we filmed in Kenya's Maasai Mara and Oregon's Beaverton High School. These are my girls, and your girls. They were about to take exams, doing the only thing they can do to change the trajectory of their lives. With its kidnapping of over 260 girls from the small Nigerian town of Chibok, Boko Haram has attacked the very core of what is, without question, the most effective way to empower women: education.  

The leader of Boko Haram is making claims that educating girls is immoral. We know immoral when we see it. Boko Haram is trying to intimidate Nigeria from continuing its work allowing young women to escape from roles that have put their lives at risk and stalled the economic growth of families and communities. 

The author, circa 1988, Maragoli, Kenya, with two of my rising young academics

The author, circa 1988, Maragoli, Kenya, with two of my rising young academics

Want greater resources poured into rural communities? Educate girls. 

When I was 22, I taught at an all-girls boarding school in western Kenya. I returned to my village 25 years later and got in touch with Alexine, a friend and teacher. In 1987 she, also 22, was the head teacher at a neighboring primary school. Although Alexine eventually left to live and work in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, her income did not. Last year, her family showed me the small tree farm she paid to have planted on her parents’ land and the fish pond she had built. These projects provide sustainable, diverse sources of income and food for her family and village in an area with very few jobs and whose food supply is largely dependent upon rainfall. It is no surprise that World Bank found,

giving women the same access to non-land resources and services as men could increase yields on women’s land by up to 30 per cent, raise total agricultural output in developing countries by up to four per cent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 billion.
Alexine's Tree Farm (photo by Jinx Faulkner)

Alexine's Tree Farm (photo by Jinx Faulkner)

Want to put an end to violence against women during wartime? Educate girls.

Educating girls is also critical to women’s health and safety. Last week, Oregon’s World Affairs Council hosted Liberian peace activist and 2011 Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. At the close of her incredibly inspirational talk to a packed house, Gbowee remarked that the way women are treated during wartime is an exacerbation of how they are treated during peacetime. In other words, when women are treated disrespectfully in their daily lives, and not given the same opportunities as males, war crimes against women and girls are horrific. We have seen this over and over again, from Rwanda to the United States. For women in many countries, equal access to education is about respect or rape, life or death.

Leymah Gbowee speaking at a Columbia Business School Conference/Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

Leymah Gbowee speaking at a Columbia Business School Conference/Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

Although gains are being made in my village in rural Kenya, there is still work to be done:

  • Secondary school completion rates for adolescent girls is below five per cent in 19 sub-Saharan African countries.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than one in five girls makes it to secondary school.

What success stories are you hearing? Drown out Boko Haram.

The supposed leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has an extremely loud voice. He has commanded the air waves for over four weeks. Who else can we amplify? What other success stories about educating girls can we share to inspire others to follow suit? Where are the stories of the mothers and fathers who educate their daughters in the face of extreme intimidation? The educators? The volunteers? The organizers? The funders? The team at Studio Kate wants to tell these stories, and we want to make them loud. We are inspired by the Alexines and Leymahs of the world. When it comes to education for young women, who inspires you?

Warmly,

Kate


Tea Time at Alexine's (photo by Jinx Faulkner)

Tea Time at Alexine's (photo by Jinx Faulkner)