It’s been a year since 200 Nigerian school girls went missing, kidnapped by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Some reports claim that many of the girls have been trafficked or forced into marriage.
Public response on the social networks at the time they went missing was overwhelming. Celebrities including Michelle Obama joined the campaign for their safe return, pictured holding placards bearing the slogan #bringbackourgirls.
At the time, a Fox News panel were criticised for mocking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign by saying:
“Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behaviour’?”
I hate to agree with them, but they have a point.
Perhaps hashtag activisim simply makes us feel like we are doing something about social injustice- but it’s nothing more than armchair activism. And what about the so-called smaller issues that don’t make the news or gain hashtag attention- but oppress us and destroy our souls nonetheless?
The thing is, the Suffragettes of the early 20th century chained themselves to railings; women of the 60’s took to the streets and burnt their bras, while we…. what, stay at home and silently tap away on our keyboards? Is that what our generation will be known for? All the while, how much is really changing?
But for all our tweeting and campaigning, are the lives of women really changing for the better?
The Internet gives us a voice
I grew up in a male dominated household. As you can imagine, I had lots of opinions on social issues- but they were rarely taken seriously.
Fast forward twenty or so years and I have written about some difficult topics including child sex abuse and rape. The internet has allowed me the opportunity to carve out a credible space for my voice and opinions.
For all the criticism that the likes of Facebook receive, the one thing the social networks have done well is to socially and politically engage us. What is more, (ok two things then) they have given us a voice.
Yes it will take a lot more than blogging and tweeting alone to stamp misogyny. It will take a lot more than that to ever see those lost Nigerian girls.
But speaking out against these crimes against women IS the starting point. The collective voices of women- on Twitter and on social networks everywhere will eventually change the dominant male narrative that silences us.
Instead of feeling frustrated that all I can do is sit here and type, I remind myself of this: twenty years ago I didn’t know it was ok to have these views and opinions, let alone have a space to voice them. Where once no one listened to me or women like me, we now have a platform and that’s vital. What is more, I can spread the word, and get others to engage. And for those victims who aren’t able to speak up- those lost victims, perhaps some of this will help empower them in knowing that someone else is speaking on their behalf.
Perhaps the hashtag is our friend after all.