For the past couple weeks, the world’s eyes have been focused on Nigeria after a group of nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, a violent organization that is vehemently opposed to Western education. As if that wasn’t horrific enough, the group’s self-proclaimed leader Abubakar Shekau released a video a few days ago that threatened to sell the young girls as sex slaves. All over the globe, people have been reacting and attempting to raise awareness (yes, I hate this term too, but in this case it is important to have everyone know what’s going on there) through the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag, including A-listers.
Stars including Justin Timberlake, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jamie Foxx, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama, and more have been circulating photos of themselves holding signs that read “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” The campaign was actually started back in 2011 by Kutcher and Demi Moore as an organized effort to combat human trafficking and sex slavery, but due to the Boko Haram kidnapping, it has regained a huge amount of momentum both in the news and on social media in general. While many of the photos are not directly intended to be about the Nigerian mass kidnapping, the statement is still the same. And they’re not alone on the outspoken front: the Islamic Fiqh Academy, which is dedicated to the advanced study of Islam, has stated that the “crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organizations contradicts all humanitarian principles and moral values and violates the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah.”
While it is obvious that nobody should buy anybody and this isn’t exactly a wildly controversial political message, it is still important to recognize the fact that so many culturally significant figures are taking a clear and deliberate public stance on this truly terrible act of violence. The fact that #RealMenDontBuyGirls and #BringBackOurGirls are now trending on both Twitter and Facebook is testament to how important it is that those in power pay attention and do anything possible to save these young women.
The only problematic member of this Hollywood #RealMenDontBuyGirls group is Sean Penn. For those who don’t know, Sean Penn once spent 33 days in jail after he beat up his then-wife Madonna. Did I mention it was with a baseball bat? For nine hours? Forgive me if I don’t leap for joy and admiration about a man who gets to attend the Met Gala despite committing horrific acts of abuse against a woman and just so happens to be slightly involved in some charitable organizations now. Even if he has changed, there are far better human beings for representing a cause involving violence against women.
Other than the above concern, this campaign is a positive thing. Obviously, tweets and Tumblr posts and Facebook rants won’t bring back these children, but the more attention paid to the issue, the more likely it is that those who can do something will choose to. All girls and boys deserve to be able to learn without fear of violence, intimidation or oppression; standing up for that shouldn’t just be admired, it should be expected.