On Mother’s Day, I spoke at a local march and rally to show support for the nearly 300 school girls abducted a month ago in Nigeria. Here’s what I said:
Bring Back Our Girls Twin Cities March
May 11, 2014
“Thanks to organizers and to all of you for being here.
“I’m here as a lawyer and deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that works on human rights issues around the world.
“But I’m also here as a mother. My kids Simon and Eliza are here today as well to stand in honor of the nearly 300 girls abducted simply because they were pursuing their human right to education. I think that’s pretty much the best Mother’s Day gift they could give me.
“There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the situation in Nigeria. We don’t know where the girls are or what is happening to them. We don’t even know the exact number abducted and we only know a few of their names. We can only imagine the agony their families are going through.
“But the tragedy of the nearly 300 girls in Chibok shines a spotlight on the systemic human rights abuses against faced by women and girls worldwide.
“And there are many things we do know about violations of the rights of girls and women:
- “We know that girls around the world lack equal access to basic education (in the NE region of Nigeria where these girls lived, girl enrollment is the lowest in the country – only 22%). In part, they were targeted because they were seeking an education that would change their lives.
- “Educating girls, we know, is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality. It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development
- “We know that girls and women are not valued equally as boys and men in many parts of the world. The Nigerian government’s lack of action both before and after certainly makes it seem that these girls were not deemed worthy of protection.
- “We know that when these girls are found and hopefully rescued, they will need support in the form of psychosocial and health care. Women’s access to health care is woefully limited.
- “We know that 1 in 3 girls under age 18 are still being forced into marriage too early. By some estimates, that’s about 14 million girls a year. Too many girls still endure harmful traditional cultural practices such as FGM.
- “We know that girls and women suffer the most in times of conflict. What these girls have experienced is likely a war crime. Trafficking remains a huge problem around the world and in our own community.
- “We know that 1 in 3 of the world’s women experience violence, including domestic violence (The Advocates for Human Rights works on domestic violence legal reform around the world);
“And we know that these are all things that have to change.
“We need to do more to push our governments to make this change a priority. We can’t stop with just these 276 girls.
“Now these are human rights abuses that may seem intractable. It may seem like you are powerless to make a difference. But you can:
- “Continue to educate yourself about girls and women’s rights. Here in the Twin Cities, there are many opportunities. Through The Advocates for Human Rights alone, you can attend the free St. Paul Public Library Women’s Rights Film series, learn more about the issues on www.StopVAW.org, or participate in our Human Rights Book Club.
- “Support the NGOs that work on issues you care about. No amount is too small – a little money really does go a long way in this area.
- “Write to our members of Congress and the President to encourage support for women’s rights as a critical part of our US foreign policy.
- “For those of you with young people in your lives, teach them about the world around them so that they will grow up to continue the fight to ensure that every child, wherever he or she lives in the world, has the chance to live in safety and dignity and to achieve their greatest human potential.
“For those of you doubting whether sharing this story on social media really makes a difference, I’d like to share a message I got on my blog from a woman named Winnie in Nigeria:
“‘we here in nigeria are so angry and feel very helpless, the government and opposition leaders have politicized this, while our daughters are still in captivity. the government officials do not want to listen to ‘ordinary’ people. and word has it that the Nigerian press have been ordered to kill the story (as the have killed other stories in the past). pls this is a passionate plea to the international community to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.’
“Here in the Twin Cities and all around the world, we are working to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.
“And after our girls come home, I hope we can keep working together for a future where all girls around the world can go to school in safety and grow up to reach their full human potential.”
By: Jennifer Prestholdt is the deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights and the director of the organization’s International Justice Program. She has a B.A. in political science from Yale and a M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she studied international human rights law and international refugee policy. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1996.
Ms. Prestholdt has worked on refugee and asylum issues for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. She has also interned for the Reebok Human Rights Program and the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination Against and Protection of Minorities. Prior to becoming Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, she practiced asylum law for five years as the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program. As The Advocates’ deputy director, she assists in fundraising for and directing organizational operations. Ms. Prestholdt also supervises the development and administration of International Justice programming. She has also taught International Human Rights Law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.