By Daphne Bramham
May 16, 2014
The outrageous kidnap of more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls could have one positive outcome. It might change attitudes toward the more than 100 million other women and girls missing in the world.
Some Canadian commentators have suggested the rescue of the Nigerian girls would have been almost immediate had they been Caucasian. That’s folly.
The disappearance of the many blond-haired, blue-eyed girls from Bountiful has never received the attention it deserves.
For decades, schoolgirls have disappeared from fundamentalist Mormon communities in British Columbia, ending up in related communities in Alberta and across the American west.
Other schoolgirls have ended up in Bountiful as child brides bearing the babies of aging polygamist patriarchs.
Perhaps if they’d been abducted together and moved across national, provincial and state borders, there would have been an international outcry and a reason for an earlier #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
For decades, nothing was done to stop those kidnappings and forced marriages.
More than three years after detailed information was presented in court about how men in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had trafficked 32 girls between Bountiful and the United States, nothing has been done to return those school girls to their communities or bring the men who perpetrated this atrocity to justice.
There is no chasm between the beliefs of the Islamist leaders of Boko Haram and the FLDS leaders. Their disregard for the value and rights of girls and women inextricably links them.
For them, girls and women are chattel. Like cattle, their only value is their breeding ability.
For them, educating girls must be stopped. Allowing it to continue might mean that some day those girls could challenge the patriarchy that enslaves them.
But girls taken by religious fanatics are only a few whose fates have never been properly addressed.
For too long, the issue of missing girls and women has been conflated with prostitution. It’s a sly way of suggesting the missing are somehow responsible for their fate. But it makes them easier to forget.
Only this week, B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton insisted the Highway of Tears is now safer than ever even though little has been done other to put up billboards warning girls and women not to hitchhike and improving cellular service so potential victims might be able to make a phone call.
As many as 43 girls and women have disappeared along the lonely, Highway 16 in northern British Columbia.
The youngest was 12. All but six of the 18 documented cases were in their teens. More than half of them were Aboriginal and they are among the nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women and girls RCMP have identified as missing or murdered in the last 30 years.
The perils faced by girls and women in other countries often find their way to Canada as well.
The ethics of doing ultrasounds that lead to selective abortions has been a local story.
Last week, a B.C. Supreme Court justice ordered the deportation of Jassi Sidhu’s mother and uncle to India to face trial for Jassi’s murder in 2000. The contract killing of the Canadian-born Jassi is frequently mischaracterized as an “honour killing.”
Stories of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl nearly killed by the Taliban alter demanding an education, grab our attention. But they are a tiny part of the broader picture of the missing 100 million.
In India alone, there are an estimated 25 million and UBC economics professor Siwan Anderson along with New York University economist Debraj Ray are leading the research.
They don’t challenge other research that suggests as many as 10 million female fetuses were aborted in a 20-year period. But they found it’s only in Punjab (where the majority of Canadian immigrants are from) that the gender discrepancies come either because of selective abortion or deaths before the age of 15.
But their 2012 research found that in India, at least, female mortality is “sharply highest at reproductive ages.”
They speculate it’s partly due to death in childbirth or after due to complications, but also due to the high rate of injuries reported.
They estimated that, in 2003 alone, injuries resulted in the deaths of more 225,000 women, dwarfing the 130,000 maternal mortality deaths. Fire-related deaths are most common, resulting in the deaths of 100,000 Indian women each year.
They speculate these deaths might be related to dowry, the price a family pays to have a daughter married, and the nonpayment of dowry fees.
But as important as that research is, Anderson and Ray raise a question that links back to the Nigerian kidnappings.
Are not the so-called excess deaths and violence against women at least as worthy of concern, study and mitigation as the excess deaths, kidnappings and violence perpetrated against girls?
The obvious answer is yes. So, alongside the current campaign #BringBackOurGirls, we need another worldwide lobby called #KeepGirls&WomenSafe.