With the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls dominating the headlines, what has gone largely unnoticed is that some of the world’s most powerful women in fields such as media, business, fashion and politics recently convened in Nigeria for a conference intended to empower global leaders.
Attendees and speakers at the third annual WIE Africa Symposium (“WIE” stands for Women, Inspiration and Enterprise), held on May 3, included movers and shakers such as CEO of Johnson Publishing Co. Desiree Rogers and CNN anchor Isha Sesay, as well as African powerhouses like business tycoon and billionaire Folorunsho Alakija and business executive Jennifer Obayuwana.
In addition to these prominent leaders, the conference could well have included women from the town where the girls’ abduction took place, Chibok, given the Herculean efforts and proven leadership skills that these local women displayed in raising global awareness about the hostage crisis created by the terror group Boko Haram. These women worked tirelessly, and many did so without first world resources like the Internet.
Kudos are in order for them, and for all of their counterparts worldwide who also worked to bring attention to the abduction, in light of accusations that local law-enforcement officials were not initially doing everything they could to rescue the more than 200 girls who were taken. There’s also the perception that mainstream news organizations did not cover the incident with as much fervor as they should have.
Social media campaigns were strengthened by mothers and daughters in the West; the de facto spokeswomen on the ground in Nigeria worked to put a human face to the conflict; and several dozen activists in major cities rallied protesters. Women like Gugulethu Mlambo in New York City, for instance, organized an awareness rally and encouraged women to wear a gele—the traditional head scarf worn by Nigerian women.
Female members of the Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference on Wednesday at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to denounce the actions of Boko Haram and demand the return of the schoolgirls to their families. These are examples of how women “bridged the gap” (this year’s theme for the symposium) and turned the world’s eyes to a catastrophe that was not being addressed adequately.
Arise TV anchor Lola Ogunnaike was at the conference and spoke to The Root about how the kidnapping came up frequently during panel discussions and weaved itself into the overall spirit of the gathering.
“The ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign was something that all of the women were speaking about over lunch, in between panels and from the stage,” Oguinnaike described. She went on to describe the ubiquitous sense of unity that was apparent during those discussions: “Even though it’s happening hours away in the North, women in Lagos have felt this intimately.”