As International Women's Day "is being celebrated", I can't help but think of the hashtag that set social media worldwide ablaze with protests. Last April, #BringBackOurGirls called the world's attention to the kidnapping of 276 school girls — taken from the Chibok Government Secondary School in northeast Nigeria by terrorist group Boko Haram.
(Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)Shocked and upset by the kidnappings, I participated in one of the real-life protests held in front of the Nigerian Embassy here in Washington, DC. Posting hashtags on twitter just wasn't enough; I needed to do more.
So I joined a frustrated but peaceful group of demonstrators comprised of people from all walks of life, who were rightfully outraged by this blatant attack on the lives of innocent young girls.
(Photo: Flickr Commons/Tim Green)We stood in front of the closed gates of the embassy, with our banners and signs, in earnest hope for solutions. We shared with one another our concerns and why we couldn't sit back in silence over this issue, in between speakers addressing us as a group. News cameras and reporters on-site were diligent in catching every angle of the event.
But as protestors, our mission was clear; we came to lend our voice to a growing chorus for the immediate release of the Chibok Government school girls. The chants that day rose up with passion: "We Want Action Now!"
(Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)Our signs lamented 276 Stolen Dreams and showed solidarity, stating We Stand with Chibok. Then we returned to the resounding call to "Bring Back Our Girls!"
It seemed even the most influential woman in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama, wanted to join in the protest. Apparently she thought the best way to use her voice for this cause was to tweet about it. (Considering her influence and position, many questioned such online activism when more direct action is needed.)
The Nigerian government, U.S. government and the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education are among those who have renewed their commitment to finding the girls. Yet over 300 days later, a majority of the Chibok school girls are still in captivity.
Rumored to be sold, converted into another religion, or married off to significantly older men, these girls need us to sound the alarm now more than ever for their freedom. Yet where is the social outcry? Where are the prayer vigils, protests or hashtags?
Perhaps, unfortunately, we have gotten used to the fact that girls are going missing in huge numbers all around the world. Because the real war on women begins in the womb.
In India alone, one million girls are intentionally aborted each year because of their gender. Seen as a burden due to an illegal dowry system that is widely practiced, and the fact that traditionally a son is tasked with caring for his parents in their old age while a daughter has little contact with her own family after marriage; has caused a preference for boys and fueled gendercide.
As a result, 50 million girls are missing in India today.
The lack of women has caused a drastic rise in sex trafficking and kidnapping of girls as brides to unwed men. China's appalling gender imbalance of 33 million more Chinese men than women spawns from over five decades of government-sponsored abortion policies, resulting in one of the most alarming gendercide rates in the world. East Asian countries such as Taiwan and Singapore, along with other former communist countries, also have perplexing gender disparities.
It would be flawed, however, to dismiss gendercide as an Asian or communist countries' problem. From 1995-2005, fifteen hundred girls went missing among Indian communities in England and Wales. Topic experts agree that sex-selective abortions was the only viable explanation for this steep decline of girls. In the United States between 1991 and 2004, two thousand Chinese and Indian girls were also missing.
And the issue persists today. It's no wonder women and girls are kidnapped and attacked at alarming rates globally.
If the attempt to silence their voice begins in the womb, the global outcry should begin here for our missing girls. As world leaders mark International Women's Day on March 8th, let us renew our efforts to advocate and be a voice for all missing girls.
The documentary film It's A Girl, currently streaming on Netflix, offers a starting point to understand and act to end gendercide:
Marisa Lengor Kwaning is a writer, editor and health policy analyst who resides in Washington, D.C. She earned a Masters degree in Public Policy from George Mason University, has worked in public health policy, and currently contributes to Bound4LIFE International, a grassroots movement to pray for the ending of abortion and for revival worldwide.