Call Me Clever: An open letter to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on our Nigerian girls

By Thato Magano (@ThatoMagano)

As we near nearly one year since the more than 200 Chibok girls were kidnapped from their boarding, we look back at an open letter penned by Thato Magano just less than a month after their having gone missing, and addressed to UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in an appeal to prioritise them on the agenda of the UN. 

This post was originally published on 6 May 2014 and is republished here as part of our one year anniversary retrospective.

An email to sent to the United Nations Executive Director for Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Good day Mme Mlambo-Ngcuka,

First, allow me the opportunity to apologise to you for the intrusion on my part. I was able to acquire your email address through some logical thought and prior experience of how the UN is set up as an organisation. I have greatly admired you and your work from a distance and when you left the South African government executive, I believed that you would show up again in an elevated capacity of responsibility; and none are greater than your current roles as United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN Women.

The reason for my mail to you is related to the more than 200 young women who were abducted in Nigeria almost three weeks ago. I write to you just as a concerned citizen without any understanding of what the processes to be followed are but felt that the little I could do was this email, as it has been reported in various media outlets that there is not much that we can do as ordinary citizens, lest the government of Nigeria, the African Union or the United Nations steps in to address the situation and lead the charge is securing the return of these young women. So in my small way, I am hoping this mail will create some kind of agency around this issue.

I have taken the time to review the mandate of your office as UN Women and believe that it is best positioned to take and hold a leading voice on the issue. I am not privileged to the systematic workings of the UN but what I do know is that the UN Secretary General has condemned the abduction and called for the release of the young women. This was almost two weeks ago and the young women are still not back at home with their parents. Parents are still reeling from the emotion of not knowing what their daughters are eating, if they are being cared for, or at the worst, are exposed to the worst atrocities of what war has exposed to women on this continent of Africa in the past.

As I have become invested in the evolution of this story, latest media report are speculating that the young women have been moved to neighbouring Cameroon and Chad while some have been married off to their captors. I know that this is not a unique experience for many women in war zones or marginalised backgrounds; however, the scale of what has happened here is troubling. In 2014, in a world where women like yourself have been able to rise to the highest level of accountability in society and business as a result of the opportunities access to education has afforded yourselves, it should not even be acceptable that these young women have been subjugated for wanting to access this right to future opportunity.

Over the past two months, the world has kept a vigil on the going on’s of the Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp murder trial, and while this is good on some level as it highlights another issue surrounding women, namely femicide, I am often wondering why we are also not invested in the same way in pursuing every option possible to bring back these young women to their families. These young women of Nigeria deserve to be on the agenda of the United Nations on a daily basis. They deserve to have a voice to advocate for them and conscientise the world on a daily basis and that voice I believe is your office. They deserve at least that much!

I am sincerely hopeful that a lot is being done to bring these young women home safely. I am hopeful that you are leading the charge with the UN and all affiliated agencies to advocate for these young women. I am hopeful that the end of their ordeal is soon coming, however in the meantime, I appeal to your office to lead the conversation externally, so we ordinary people can know that indeed, everything that can be done, has been, in order to bring them home.

I trust that this mail will be received in the manner that it was intended and that more visible action will be taken for the sake of these young women and all other young women who might be subjected to such atrocities in future. Let them know that someone is standing up for them.

Yours faithfully,

Thato Magano


Photo credit: Reuters

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