234 Girls Abducted from Physics Exam #HelpTheGirls

It’s a new, depressing video! A close-enough transcript follows.

Warning: this is a terrible story.

Normally I like to keep things light on this channel, but one of the most important topics I like to talk about is secularism and women’s rights, and right now there’s a story happening that illustrates the desperate need for people all around the world to recognize the impact that religious extremism can have on the lives of women, and there’s a small way that you can help.

Two weeks ago, 234 girls were abducted from a school in northeastern Nigeria. They were loaded into trucks at gunpoint and taken into the forest. We know what happened because of about 30 girls who managed to escape.

This is assumed to be the work of Boko Haram, a sect of Muslim extremists whose very name means “Western education is sinful.” They want to institute an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. They use child soldiers and there’s evidence to suggest they’ve abducted girls in the past to serve as sex slaves. In February they murdered 59 students.

The local Muslim population is unsupportive of Boko Haram, to the point that the group has even assassinated Muslim clerics for criticizing it.

The best weapon we have against groups like Boko Haram is education, and they know it. That’s why they’ve waged war on it. Those girls were in school that day to take a physics exam. If 200 white girls in America were abducted during physics class, the world wouldn’t rest until they were found. But because these girls are in Nigeria, a place far away from the media spotlight, they’re simply gone. The Nigerian government is doing less than nothing – at one point they announced that the girls had been found and rescued, but the parents revealed that was a lie. The parents are spending their own money to hire motorcycles and cars to trek into the forest, and coming back empty-handed.

How do 200 girls, and enough soldiers and trucks to carry them off, simply disappear?

One way to help fix this is by raising awareness. International media attention leads to international pressure on the Nigerian government to do something. There’s a Change.org petition you can sign, created by a Nigerian woman currently living in Germany. You can also Tweet using the hashtags helpthegirls and bringbackourdaughters.

It may not seem like a lot, but increased awareness is one of the major factors that led to the release of persecuted individuals like the members of Pussy Riot and Alexander Aan. So spread the word and maybe make a difference.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Rebecca Watson,

    I’m signing the petition and I’m spreading the word. Every single member of Boko Haram that was in anyway responsible for this kidnapping needs to be sent to jail. This can not be tolerated.

  2. To their credit, Channel 4 News here in the UK did report this story, once they’d gotten all of the facts – and they’ve gone further by joining up the dots to reveal more about who Boko Haram are and how this links into the other conflicts still going on across Africa. (http://www.channel4.com/news/who-are-boko-haram) Sadly, the BBC’s coverage is piecemeal – I can only find a few references on the BBC News website.

    But even Channel 4 came to the story many days after I’d first read about it online. Not a peep from the newspapers or other TV channels, or only a brief mention in ‘other news’. Unfortunately, I have an inkling as to why this is so – my dad worked as an engineer at ITN for nearly two decades, handling satellite / cable feed bookings and OB (outside broadcast) set-up, and became very familiar with the thinking of journalists and editors. They’ll throw money, resources and airtime at what they consider the ‘big’ stories, and fit in whatever else they can obtain from other agencies. The situation is slightly better now with blogging by news reporters on the ground, but those tend not to feature in the main news sites or broadcasts.

  3. I agree everything must be done to find and if possible rescue these girls.

    On Boko Haram, it’s worth quoting Chris Kwaja, a Nigerian university lecturer and researcher, who says that “religious dimensions of the conflict have been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement and inequality are the root causes”. Nigeria, he points out, has laws giving regional political leaders the power to qualify people as ‘indigenes’ (original inhabitants) or not. It determines whether citizens can participate in politics, own land, obtain a job, or attend school. The system is abused widely to ensure political support and to exclude others. Muslims have been denied indigene-ship certificates disproportionately often. Nigerian opposition leader Buba Galadima says: “What is really a group engaged in class warfare is being portrayed in government propaganda as terrorists in order to win counter-terrorism assistance from the West.”

    “Religious extremism” is a convenient tag for many conflicts. But to maintain it at the fore of discussion risks depriving us of the ability to understand the actual causes of conflict.


    1. “it’s worth quoting Chris Kwaja, a Nigerian university lecturer and researcher, who says that “religious dimensions of the conflict have been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement and inequality are the root causes”.”

      Well, the ‘root’ causes leading to conditions of “disenfranchisement and inequality”can in much measure be attributed tquite precisely what religion is so adept at facilitating. For crying out loud – upon the very lives of these students – when will religious apologists quit placing the blame on anything OTHER than religious indoctrination? Its a lousy excuse, like stabbing them and us all while we are down. SHAME.

      1. Pardon the many typos: here is my response cleaned up:

        Well, the ‘root’ causes leading to conditions of “disenfranchisement and inequality” can in much measure be attributed quite precisely to what religion is so adept at facilitating. For crying out loud – upon the very lives of these students – when will religious apologists quit placing the blame on anything OTHER than religious indoctrination? Its a lousy excuse, like stabbing them and us all while we are down. SHAME.

    2. The contention that “the primary driver of violence [is] in fact, disenfranchisement and inequality” as a “root cause” begs the origin. Where in the Nigerian society (or any other society on this Earth) are we to find the origin of disenfranchisement and inequality? If Chris Kwaja is speaking of conditions suffered by the general population, all might readily agree it to be appalling, even to the plausible connection between hardship due to disenfranchisement and inequality and violent response (look at the recent situation in the Ukraine, for example), But to specifically suggest disenfranchisement and inequality suffered by members of Boko Haram as a reason WHY they systematically engage in MONSTROUS BEHAVIOR THAT IN FACT TARGETS VICTIMS FOR SPECIFICALLY RELIGIOUS REASONS is pushing the importance of religion over human lives, an indefensible and morally despicable stance.

      Are we supposed to extend sympathy to them for having such a hard time that they may be excused for committing the atrocity of vanishing over 200 young people from the world? if you think that – if you really believe that the religion behind the atrocity shouldn’t count, and must be preserved over and above and at the expense of human lives – there is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with your thinking. That kind of thinking is characteristic of the twisted worldview that obsessively requires control over people – the very foundation upon which every religion in the history of the world has been erected. Yes, there is indeed a root cause behind disenfranchisement and inequality: one needs to look no further than religion to discover the ultimate seed of the insanity involved

  4. I did a Google search when I first heard about this and, as Skepotter says, the number or girls and their status was all over the place depending on which (usually minor) outlet you read. I think this further emphasizes how little importance the news media have given the situation in that they have not only been slow to report it but sloppy in verifying the facts in the matter. Regardless, this is shocking and inexcusable.

  5. Signed the petition, and spreading the word. This is incredibly sad and despicable.
    The tiny window supplied for commenting on “why this is important for you” poses a significant challenge to composing…but here is what I posted, for better or worse, flaws and all: (It was a stream of outrage and did not think to edit it on an external platform before entering it, but not before an impulse to save it…hope it made at least some decent sense):

    This is unspeakably outrageous. The abduction of over 200 girls exercising their right to a science education by religious madmen is a ghastly and despicable affront to humanity and cannot be tolerated by a world that aspires to refer to itself as civilized. It is high time that religious leaders of all faiths own up to the extremism their wealthy institutional traditions of superstition and political control over people has historically spawned with such terrifying regularity and – if they are as sincere to the superior ethical and moral standards they habitually claim upon the appeal to divine revelation and knowledge – unconditionally and unequivocally condemn their primary role in the chronic and cyclical precipitation of monstrous behavior such organized traditions of ignorance and allegiance to non-reason occasions. We can no longer afford to tolerate any tradition that systematically removes and absolves individuals from their personal quest and responsibility to understand the world they live in according to real evidence supplied by nature, placed with such disgusting pomp and exhibitions of ceremony beneath the cheaply glorified figment conception that they may possess all the necessary knowledge and certitude of an omniscient and omnipotent God, who will reward or otherwise punish them in a non-existent afterlife according to merits determined by obedience to religious dominion rule. The disease of religious superstition has had thousands of years of opportunity to refine and teach its standards of ethical and moral conduct. This tragic example of RELIGION-INSPIRED inhuman monstrosity once again demonstrates the bankruptcy of any tradition that places a premium on faith over natural reality. I fear to the marrow of my bones for the safety of these girls who have been snatched from the world they endeavored to learn about and become inspired by, due to the monster among us that is religion. If there was any such thing as a God, He would condemn religion as the false means of ascertaining the truth that it is.

  6. I’d say ‘girls being abducted’ trumps ‘keep it light’ any day.

    Correction: Boko Haram. (Haram means ‘forbidden’ in Arabic. Literally “Education is forbidden.”)

    UPDATE: The US has pledged to do ‘everything possible’ to find these girls.


    Now we’ll just see what ‘everything possible’ means for the US.

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