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Today marks 100 days since 276 girls were seized from their boarding school in Chibok in Borno state in the north-east of Nigeria.

ActionAid speaks to relatives of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls as they spend 100th day in captivity
Photo: ActionAid

The girls were aged between 16 and 18 and were taking exams at the school which was one of the few still open in the area. Around 50 girls managed to escape, the rest were taken by Boko Haram militants into the remote Sambisa forest.

In May a video of some of the girls was released by Boko Haram, an extremist group whose aim is to set up an Islamic state in Nigeria and whose name means "western education is a sin". They offered to hand them over in exchange for the release of militant prisoners. Nothing has been heard of them since.

This month, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for championing the right of girls to education, visited Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and the families of the kidnapped girls and pledge her support for their release. But it is now 100 days since the abduction and the families fear the world's attention has moved on and they will never see their daughters again.

Interviews with abducted schoolgirls' families

Last week ActionAid spoke to members of the Chibok community and some of the families of the kidnapped girls, who are still going through agony - not knowing what happened to their daughters and sisters.

Shaku, 16, brother of one of the abducted girls, told ActionAid: “I was the one who took my sister Saratu and our cousin Elizabeth to school. It was the week before they were abducted and I borrowed my father’s motorbike to take them.

“I loved my sister very much. She is my older sister and sometimes she would call me and say: “Let us go and read” and we would read together and she would help teach me things that I didn’t know. When I remember these things, I can’t sleep and I start to cry.”

Rhoda, 20, sister of another one of the girls, added: “The day I heard about the kidnappings it was in the afternoon. I heard about the abductions and was thinking this was my sister’s school even before it was confirmed. I couldn’t eat that day, my heart was beating so fast.  To this day my body doesn’t feel good, I’ve been feeling ill all the time since then.

“My sister liked reading, she wanted to be a lawyer. Among all of us, she was the one who liked going to school most. She was very intelligent. She is younger than me, but she was a better student than I am.”

It’s heartbreaking to hear their words, - and you can see how upset they are in the interview at the top of this page  - but it is not just the immediate families that are affected. The kidnapping as well as other attacks by Boko Haram means that many parents living in the wider area do not want to let their daughters go to school for fear of them being abducted or killed. This is a terrible consequence of the violence in a country which is already home to over 10 million of the 57 million out of schoolchildren in the world - more than any other country.

Working to get girls into school in Nigeria

ActionAid has worked for many years to promote education, particularly for girls, in Nigeria. We work with parents, pupils, teachers, community leaders and religious leaders to make the case for girls’ education and challenge entrenched attitudes which prevent families sending their daughters to school.

We are pressing local authorities to recruit more female teachers, since Muslim parents are more likely to send girls to school where their teacher is a woman. We have seen how something as simple as the construction of sanitation facilities, particularly separate lavatories for girls, has encouraged many pupils to stay in school.

We also promote girls' clubs to create safe spaces for secondary school girls to meet and interact amongst themselves, while building their confidence and learning about life changing topics and issues. Weekly activities include skills training sessions from local business women such as sewing, knitting and doughnut-making. In some schools girls have put their new skills into practice by providing school lunches, and supporting one another’s examination fees.

Read more about our work on education in Nigeria here.

“I often think of suicide”. This is the final line from a young girl whose story was sent to me this week. This girl is 16 years old and from Ghana. She was forced to undergo female genital mutilation as a small child and was told that having her genitals mutilated would make her attractive to potential husbands and ensure she was faithful to him. 

Girls use song and dance to send an anti-FGM message
Girls in Kenya use song and dance to send an anti-FGM message
Photo: ActionAid

This 16 year old girl now spends her time talking to others about the horrible effects of female genital mutilation in the hope that other girls won’t have to go through the same.

We're at the Girl Summit

This story amongst many that we read daily, is one reason we’re at today’s Girl Summit, hosted by the UK Government and aimed at tackling female genital mutilation child and early forced marriage.

Organisations from across the globe have gathered in London to listen and share collective expertise of working to eradicate these practices. They will discuss which approaches work and make commitments to end FGM and forced early marriage together.  Hopefully if we can all make these commitments individually and stick to them collectively we won’t in future see stories of girls who contemplate suicide because they have been mutilated.

Some facts about child, early forced marriage and female genital mutilation

One girl in seven in the developing world is married before she reaches the age of 15. Girls married young are more likely to experience violence, abuse and rape. The impact of early forced marriage is wide reaching; girls tend to drop out of school and are trapped with no education and no economic choices.

Three million girls a year are at risk of female genital mutilation. It exists because it has been seen as a social norm, one that in some communities often leads directly to child marriage. The procedure has devastating effects, including long lasting health and psychological complications.

As part of today’s Girl Summit we have committed to four key areas, to:

  • Share our understanding and any research on what works to reduce the prevalence of female genital mutilation.
  • Increase contact with relevant groups such as feminist, religious, youth and child rights groups in our five key countries and globally.
  • Join together with other organisations and programmes to build momentum and advocate for ending female genital mutilation and child and early forced marriage.

The race to contain Ebola - photos from the frontline of an epidemic

Natalie Curtis's picture
Natalie Curtis Journalist - Emergencies and Content

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is believed to have killed more than 4,500 people already. ActionAid is in the field in Sierra Leone with rapid outreach, teaching rural communities how to contain the virus.

ActionAid Sierra Leone is running an urgent Ebola awareness raising campaign in Kono and Bo.

We are giving out Government approved health messages in the form of flyers, radio jingles and door to door visits.

The images from Kenema are for illustrative purposes only and do not form part of ActionAid's health education outreach programme. 

Photos: Tommy Trenchard/ActionAid

I've just returned from an ActionAid Country Directors’ Forum, which among other things looked at what is going on in the world right now and identified the key challenges that we all face over the next 10 years.

Women rally for their rights in Bihar, India
Women rally for their rights in Bihar, India
Photo: Ranjan Rahi/ActionAid

Big topics were on the agenda as ActionAid country directors from Africa, Asia and the Americas met to discuss some of the key issues and trends they have to deal with every day in their work on behalf of the world's poorest people.

Discussions included climate change, religious fundamentalism and extremism, youth and what changing demographics mean in a country context, and the shift in global power structures and balances.

I’m talking here about the rise of the BRICS nations meeting this week in Brazil – those five major emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa that have large fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs.

We also discussed the changing role of the private sector and the changing face of charities and what we are there to do.

If we don't deal with climate change than no other issue matters

Many of these issues are identified in our current strategy but I was pleased that climate change came out much more strongly than I have previously seen in ActionAid global discussions.

There was one particularly telling quote from Farah Kabir who runs ActionAid's programmes in Bangladesh. She said: "If we don't deal with climate change then no other issue matters."

Farah should know. She's been instrumental in establishing a model 'climate proof' village. This is a civil engineering project that literally raised a village metres off the ground so that its families are safe when floods occur.

Her experiences reflect what I’ve seen when visiting other countries were we work. Environmental realities are undoubtedly getting worse. Poor people are already feeling the impact of climate change and of increasing natural disasters.

Some quick statistics on the impact of the increasing frequency of natural disasters: in the last 20 years, 1.3 million people have been killed, 4.4 billion affected with US$2 trillion in damages.

The rise of religious fundamentalism was also much more strongly expressed and again this is driven by the reality faced on the ground in countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The impact of global economic and political trends on women's rights

ActionAid volunteer facilitator Hawa Jalloh conducts an Ebola awareness session.ActionAid volunteer Hawa Jalloh conducts an Ebola awareness session. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/ActionAid

Underpinning all of the discussions was the reflection that these emerging trends negatively impact women’s rights  – particularly sexual and reproductive rights – and even that previous gains are in real danger of being reversed.

Conflict too, in many of the countries in which we work, is increasing women’s vulnerability with violence against women being deliberately used as a weapon of subjugation for entire communities. We only have to look at what is happening in DR Congo to understand how real this threat is.

So it was clear to me by the end of the meeting that gender equality has to be top of ActionAid’s list of priorities; that there has to be an even stronger emphasis on empowering women in the areas in which we work and on highlighting gender in the national and international campaigns that we run.

And while I’m writing about women’s rights, I would like to pay tribute to our brave female volunteers in Sierra Leone.

As you read this they will be going door-to-door telling friends and neighbours how to protect themselves from Ebola and about the importance of seeking treatment in what is now the world’s worst outbreak.

Early forced marriage – it’s time for it to stop

Leslie Sinoway's picture
Leslie Sinoway Communications Team

Look at this photo of smiling girls. They are all nine years old. They live in Ethiopia, and thanks to an ActionAid project they are at school rather than being forced to drop out to get married.

Girls at school in Ethiopia
Young girls at school in Ethiopia
Photo: Contributed by Letekidan Berhane

If you know any girls of this age in the UK you’ll be aware that their main priorities range from who their best friend is this week, will they be able to sing/dance/act like their latest famous idol, am I doing okay at school, is everyone I know in my world happy?

To most British nine-year-olds marriage involves love, happiness and most importantly (when you’re a grown up) choice. Marriage is something you decide to do, if and when, you want to - when you are ready. We want this to be the same all over the world, which is why we support whole-heartedly the UK government's Girl Summit this July.

Is early forced marriage the norm?

In many of the countries around the world where we work, child and early forced marriage is so embedded in many cultures and traditions that it is seen as the norm. Girls have little or no choice about who they are going to marry. In developing countries, one in nine girls are married before the age of 15. Shockingly, the average age of the groom to his child bride is up to nine years older.

Marrying young perpetuates the cycle of poverty

You may have heard about early forced marriage, but did you know that it’s poverty that also drives this custom? Or that the numbers of child marriage increases after natural disasters and emergencies?

Marrying young feeds into and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, powerlessness and gender inequality. When a girl misses out on education this contributes to the high rates of illiteracy amongst young women. Without the power of information they are more likely to experience violence, abuse and forced sexual relations. Child brides are five times more likely to die in childbirth.

Young women are literally saving each others' lives

Savelat, 17, village Namirkot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province

Savelat, 17, pictured above in Pakistan was forced into marriage at eight.

She was beaten by her mother-in-law and drug addict husband on a regular basis. But fortunately she was able to escape and now she runs an ActionAid programme to educate other girls and women about the impact of early girl marriage. 

She said: “I don’t want to see any other girl child of my village to face the curse of early marriage and I try my best to convince the parents that early marriage is a crime and it should be stopped.”

Pakistan recently outlawed child marriage in one province which is fantastic news. However, it's just one province. Standing against such abuses is what the Girl Summit is calling for globally – and we agree. Pledge your support for the Girl Summit here.

ActionAid also doesn't believe it's enough to just tackle early child marriage, either the harmful attitudes that surround it or gender inequality wherever they occur, otherwise violence in all its manifestations including female genital mutilation will continue. 

We want to empower young women around the world and to enable girls everywhere to fulfil their potential.

Photo: Ghulam Zakaria Khan Nutkani.

Brazil crashes out of the World Cup and waits to see what happens next

Richard Grange's picture
Richard Grange Senior Media Officer (News and Current Affairs)

The shattering 7-1 defeat of Brazil by Germany in the World Cup was not just a footballing shock – it may also have long-term political and social consequences.

The Favela da Mare slum in Rio de Janeiro
The Favela da Maré slum in Rio de Janeiro
Photo: Lianne Milton/Panos/ActionAid

Brazil went into the World Cup as a troubled nation. Many believed the huge cost of the event had not been matched with a much-promised investment in public services. This dissatisfaction sparked mass protests in cities across the nation.

During the tournament itself, those protests disappeared from view, as Brazilians fell back in love with the jogo bonito – the beautiful game. This World Cup has widely been lauded as the best ever.

But that was then and this is now. Brazilians have just witnessed their side being destroyed by Germany in what was immediately labelled as the most humiliating defeat in their footballing history.

Cost of Brazil World Cup estimated to be £6.8 billion

And after the night before comes the morning after – including the £6.8 billion price-tag of staging the event.

How this plays out in Brazilian society will become clear in the months to come. But in a country of stark inequalities where millions live in poverty and face huge social issues, many are predicting social tension.

In the Favela da Maré in Rio, where ActionAid works, people live in a crowded slum in the midst of a struggle for power between well-organised and dangerous drug gangs and the military police.

In the north in Recifé, young girls are at risk of sexual exploitation by workers coming in to build a brand new port.

And in other parts of the country – such as in Pernambuco state where ActionAid works with the Quilombola, descendants of runaway slaves – there are whole communities which lack access to piped water.

The World Cup has crystallised those inequalities and led to mass protest.

But, there is an answer. And that, according to many Brazilians, is for the country to share its billions more equitably by investing in public services.