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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 2 May 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Women Make a Stand in Lebanese Elections

New Age Islam News Bureau

2 May 2018 

Women’s engagement in Lebanese politics and public affairs has reached a new level with dozens of female candidates running for parliamentary elections. (AFP)



 Muslim Event for Children Pledging To ‘Wear Hijab for Life’ Cancelled In Quebec

 Status of Women Canada Paints a Misleading Portrait of Muslim Women

 New Challenges for Fouzia Fayyaz, the First Pakistani Female Diplomat in Saudi Arabia

 Iran: Women’s Voice Loud on International Workers Day

 Iran: Girl Students Stage Protest At Of Tehran's Allameh U

 Constable Becomes First Woman to Join BDS in Rawalpindi

 Why the Chibok Girls Returned By Boko Haram Are Still Not Entirely Free

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Women Make a Stand in Lebanese Elections

May 01, 2018

BEIRUT: Dozens of Lebanese women are running for the parliamentary elections next Sunday — a notable increase on the last poll, but still just a fraction of those standing.

Nine years ago, when Lebanon held its last election, just 12 women ran for seats compared to almost 600 men. This time, 83 women are in contention and while the increase has been welcomed, candidates told Arab News that more needs to be done to increase the numbers.

Jessica Azar, a senior news presenter with local channel MTV, is running for the first time.

The 31-year-old, standing with the Lebanese Forces list in the Metn region, told Arab News that the number of women candidates is still comparatively low.

“I am more than glad to witness women’s engagement in politics and public affairs reaching a new level, however, this is only 11.37 percent of the total number of candidates,” Azar said.

“Lebanese women are facing discrimination under some of the current laws, and only their vote will assure them that change will be made. And change can only be made by voting for people you find worthy of your votes.”

At age 25, Ghoulay Al-Assaad is the youngest candidate in the elections. She is running for the Sunni seat in Akkar.

“We want to support women in all fields, provide education for all young people, provide jobs for them and prevent further migration,” Ghoulay, who holds a BA in International Relations and Diplomatic Sciences from the University of Ankara, told Arab News.

Journalist Viollete Ghazal said that her candidacy on the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn was prompted by her work as a journalist.

“I know the problems of society and know which deals that take place in it. I wasn’t able to change things as a journalist.

“I have to be within Parliament to take part in legislating and modernizing the laws. Joining the list of the ‘Phalangist’ opposition party was in line with my aspirations,” she said.

Zoya Jureidini has a different experience that led her to run for the Greek Orthodox seat in the Chouf-Aley district in Mount Lebanon.

She said that while she chaired an association of the “Enough” campaign, which combats violence against women, she struggled to persuade the government to change laws prejudicial to women.

“There is a dominant macho mentality in Parliament that avoids any modifications that may affect the personal laws in Lebanon, so much so that we now feel as if we are begging for our rights from the Parliament,” she told Arab News.

Rula Al-Jaroudi, a lawyer, is the only candidate on the “Future Is for Beirut” electoral list headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Jaroudi told Arab News that her entry into public affairs was “to defend human rights through politics,” and that she would fight to amend laws prejudicial to women.



Muslim Event for Children Pledging To ‘Wear Hijab for Life’ Cancelled In Quebec

1 May 2018

An annual event that celebrates the “decision” of girls aged nine to 12 to wear the hijab for life was canceled in Quebec.

According to, far-right groups forced a Muslim community group in Montreal to move an event twice in two days after both venues faced pressure from them.

An event was supposed to take place on Sunday at the Centre Communautaire Musulman de Montreal (CCMM).

The Canadian news site said that the group has rented an auditorium for the third year at Louis-Joseph-Papineau High School on Sunday.

As a critique of the event, the Journal de Montréal ran a column by Lise Ravary with the headline "Abuse of young girls at the CSDM,” and referring to the event as a "pedophile ceremony."

After the Muslim community centre secured another room for Sunday's event at the Chateau Royal, a reception hall in Laval.

However, Chateau Royal venue also informed them less than 24 hours before the event, that they will not host the event.

A speaker from the group said that the excuse supplied by the venues was for fear of getting negative reviews and attention on Facebook.

“They were worried about their reputation," said the speaker.

According to the speaker, the Journal de Montréal, suggested the girls were being “forced to wear the hijab for the rest of their lives,” and the use of the term "abuse" in the headline.

She added: "Oppression is a serious issue. We're talking about clothing here."



Status of Women Canada Paints a Misleading Portrait of Muslim Women

by Barbara Kay

May 02, 2018

At what point do you know that your country is, on the whole, “inclusive”? Would there have to be, say, zero hate incidents for three years before you could say you live in a tolerant country?

But that’s never going to happen except in some hardline utopian’s dreams.

So now we have to settle for what is an “acceptable” hate crime statistic – so low that we can be “proud” of it.

That’s a difficult conversation to have.

Nobody wants to be the Canadian that says, “okay, I can live with a couple of hundred hate crimes a year,” even if what they mean to say is that we’re as inclusive as it gets in this vale of tears.

The people most resistant to holding that conversation are naturally those whose careers depend on bad news– or at least the perception that the news is bad – because if it were agreed that the numbers were relatively rock-bottom low, there might be no further rationale for their jobs.

We have a case in point with Status of Women Canada (SOWC), funded to the tune of $36 million annually. As detailed in a recent Vancouver Sun article by Douglas Todd, the Immigration Department scolded SOWC in a 2015 report (marked “secret”) for its “distorted” claim, amongst others, that immigrant women are “marginalized” in Canada.

This report, created for a meeting of deputy ministers, was authored by senior civil servant Catrina Tapley, a high-level advisor to the Liberal cabinet.

She wrote it as a rebuttal to certain features of a PowerPoint presentation made by Meena Ballantyne, now retired, but then head of SOWC.

Tapley took particular aim at the SOWC presentation’s  statement that “Muslim women [are] far more likely to be victims of a hate crime.” For the evidence paints quite a different picture. Thirty percent of hate crimes – which account for fewer than one in 1000 reported incidents of common assault – are religion-based.

Of the hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims, significantly lower than those against Jews, most target Muslim men. And far from being a vulnerable and marginalized group in Canada, Tapley observes that the almost four million immigrant females to Canada “generally have higher levels of post-secondary education than Canadian-born women,” a claim confirmed by a Statistics Canada analysis by Garnett Picot.

The Tapley report ranges further afield than this point, which interests me the most, so this is but a partial account. I would note the tone of impatience that comes through, for example, in the statement that “immigrant women, albeit sometimes vulnerable to certain challenges in reaching full socio-economic integration, are not on the margins of Canadian society “(emphasis on “not” in the original).

Tapley reports that immigrant women in Canada fare better than immigrants who move to other first-world countries, vote at roughly the same rate as the general population and fill two out of three spots in English and French language courses offered by the federal government.

What it comes down to is: Muslims in general – and Muslim women in particular –  are not being especially targeted for hate crimes by comparison with other religious groups, and certainly not by comparison with blacks and other ethnic or racial groups; immigrant Muslim women are successfully integrating  into the workforce and into society; and  immigrant Muslim women are achieving educational and skills targets commensurate with women born in Canada.

All this information is vitally important. Even before the mosque massacre (a tragedy perpetrated by an unstable, at times delusional individual unaffiliated with any organized hate group), Canadians have been led to believe, not least by our Prime Minister, Canadian Muslims were enduring something approaching a scourge of bigotry.

It was this perception that fueled Motion 103 and its call for more “research” into hate crimes against Muslims. Tapley’s report makes it clear that this research has been done, and that Muslims have no evidence-based claim for a special “Day of Action” or for special treatment in general. In fact, at least where other cultures are concerned, Canadians can take pride in their general level of inclusivity.

It is irresponsible for SOWC, with access to the same sources as Tapley, to contribute to this alarmist position. Their failure of due diligence makes me skeptical about their credibility in general.

But I suppose we should not be surprised that they exaggerate the issues they oversee. The worst thing that can happen to such an institution is for social harms to resolve to an “acceptable” level. As Internet guru Clay Shirky said, “Institutions will seek to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”



New Challenges for Fouzia Fayyaz, the First Pakistani Female Diplomat in Saudi Arabia

May 01, 2018

ISLAMABAD: In its 70-year history, Pakistan’s Consulate General in Jeddah had never appointed a female diplomat — until last week, when it was announced that Fouzia Fayyaz would be the councilor at the mission.

“I am very proud of Pakistan’s Foreign Service; it is their confidence in me (resulting from) my service by performing my duty at important missions such as Washington DC and New Delhi, that brought me here,” said Fayyaz.

The first female diplomat from her hometown of Rahim Yar Khan, in Pakistan’s Punjab district, Fayyaz decided to go into the diplomatic service after completing a master’s degree, having received her family’s permission to pursue her dream and take her Central Superior Services exams.

“Foreign service has always been open to the participation of women and has always extended great roles to the Pakistani female diplomats who have been a part of the organization,” Fayyaz told Arab News Pakistan, in an exclusive interview. “[Currently] our foreign secretary, who is heading our institution, is Tehmina Jenjua and women have [often] been sent to important capitals as ambassadors.”

Her role in Pakistan’s long-standing General Consulate is that of councilor, as part of which she will assist the large expatriate Pakistani population in Jeddah and the wider Kingdom.

“I am looking after consulate services, which specifically deals with ID cards, passports and other related issues, especially the issues of Pakistanis who are detained or facing problems within Saudi jails,” Fayyaz said.

“Pakistani missions in Saudi Arabia cater to the needs of about 2.7 million Pakistanis, and the expat community predominantly belongs to the laborer class. I really hope that as an officer, as a diplomat, as a person who is heading the consular services, I will be able to solve their problems, be as helpful to them as much as possible and try to mitigate their hardships.

“I truly hope that I will be able to play a positive role in improving conditions for the Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia.”

The landmark achievement of becoming the first woman to join the Saudi mission in its seven decades of existence is an exciting, door-opening opportunity that is not lost on Fayyaz.

“It’s an honor for me that I have been sent to Saudi Arabia (as) the first female diplomat to ever be appointed to serve in the Pakistan mission (here),” she said. “It’s been extremely positive and I am looking forward to seeing how Saudi Arabia is transforming itself, with more and more space becoming available for women to work and to become part of the workforce in Saudi Arabia.”



Iran: Women’s Voice Loud on International Workers Day

01 May 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Iran’s women workers participated in the Labor Day rallies and protests in step with their male colleagues.

Thousands of women and men, Iranian workers, gathered outside the mullahs’ parliament in Tehran despite heavy presence of security forces. Workers marched in the avenue passing from in front of Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

In another protest gathering in the early hours of the day outside the House of Workers (a state-backed and funded foundation), women workers and men staged a protest demanding license for the Labor Day march. 

Workers also marched in other parts of Tehran, including on Kargar and Hafez avenues, and walked towards the House of Workers. Their banner read, “Social security is workers’ inalienable right.” Workers chanted, “Death to the oppressor, hail to workers.”

In another angry demonstration in Rasht, northern Iran, protesters swindled by the IRGC-backed Caspian financial institute staged their protest outside Sarparasti Branch and pelted eggs and trash, and splashed paint on the entrance door of the fraudulent firm.

The protesters who were mainly women banged on the entrance door and wrote on it, “Death to the thieves.”

The protesting women of Rasht accused government officials and its institutions of thievery. They chanted in unison, “They have stolen our money but say they have given it back”, “our government is a thief, our law is a thief, our banks are thieves, our parliament is a thief, Rouhani is a thief, Majlis deputies are thieves, ….”



Iran: Girl Students Stage Protest At Of Tehran's Allameh U

01 May 2018

Students of Tehran's Allameh Tabatabaii University, including a large number of young women, staged a protest on Sunday, April 29, 2018, at the university's campus. They protested the university's new policy of requiring tuition, fabricating of false cases against students, and issuing heay sentences for them. 

Allameh’s young women held placards which read, “Students are not criminals,” “university is not a garrison,” “Sina Rabii, a student with heavy sentences.”

They also spoke out against the policy of Rouhani’s government to obtain tuitions from college students. They held placards which read, “No to college tuitions”, “Allameh U is an economic firm”, etc.

Last year, young women and female students participated in 111 acts of protest in various univerisities across Iran.



Constable Becomes First Woman to Join BDS in Rawalpindi

Mohammad Asghar

May 02, 2018

RAWALPINDI: On Monday, the senior superintendent of police (SSP) operations issued transfer orders for Constable Athia Batool, the first woman to join the Rawalpindi police’s bomb disposal squad (BDS).

The 27-year-old official was transferred soon after she expressed her willingness to train as a bomb disposal expert. She is the only woman on the seven-member squad.

Ms Batool said she was inspired to become a bomb disposal squad after she watched videos of Rafia Qaseem Baig, Pakistan’s first female bomb disposal officer, looking for signs of explosives. “Then I decided to join the BDS,” she added.

Ms Batool joined the police department in 2014, after completing a bachelors in communications, as a constable and later as a moharrar at the front desk. In addition to working in the police force, she is also pursuing an MBA from the Arid Agriculture University.

The senior instructor for the Rawalpindi BDS has been trained by American experts, and the squad is well-equipped with gadgets and bomb-proof kits donated by the United States. On her first day of training, Ms Batool said she learned a lot of new things related to searching suspicious bags.

SSP Operations Mohammad Bin Ashraf confirmed that the BDS had been activated and a woman had joined the squad to be trained to handle explosives.

“She is bold and courageous,” the SSP said, adding that handling explosives is a risky job that requires great courage.

He said Ms Batool will be trained to handle explosive devices, and added that police have had difficulty searching women’s gatherings, and having a woman on the squad would make improve the way that the BDS handles such situations.

Rawalpindi’s BDS includes Ms Batool, Mohammad Imran, Shahzad Khan, Mudassar Ilyas, Qadeer Ahmed and Sadaqat Ali, and squad in-charge Assistant Sub-Inspector Waqar Hussain.

Mr Hussain was part of the four-member team that was trained by American experts in 2009 to use modern gadgets and wear sophisticated bomb disposal suits to protect against explosions and mines.

The suit consists of a ballistic helmet and visor. Bomb disposal experts use x-ray machines, disrupter guns, Jensen toolkits and fibre scopes to look for explosive material inside devices in the dark, as well as armour plates and a stethoscope.



Why the Chibok Girls Returned By Boko Haram Are Still Not Entirely Free

May 02, 2018

The list had more than 200 names.

Martha James. Grace Paul. Rebecca Joseph. Mary Ali. Ruth Kolo. And so many others.

It took Nigerian officials agonising weeks to publish the names of all the students Boko Haram kidnapped from a boarding school in the village of Chibok four years ago, on the night of 14 April. Once they did, the numbers were staggering.

The list quickly circulated among the grieving parents searching for their daughters, some setting out on motorbikes to confront the Islamist militants who had stormed the school, loaded the girls into trucks and hauled them away at gunpoint.

Soldiers used the list, too, as they combed the countryside for the missing students, marching through the forest, dispatching jets and enlisting the help of foreign militaries.

Negotiators checked the names as they bartered with militants for the girls’ release. And the list became an inspiration for protesters hundreds of miles away in the capital, who kept marching for the girls’ return, day after day.

“As I began to read each name, my resolve strengthened,” says Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister who led protests. “They were not just statistics. These were real human beings.”

Far away in the United States, France, South Korea and elsewhere, public figures and celebrities joined the cause.

Bring back our girls, they all demanded.

For years, the teenagers remained missing, changing from girls into women, lost to a band of extremists known for beating, raping and enslaving its captives.

And then, many of their names were joyfully crossed off the list.

“I’m ‘back’, as they say,” says Hauwa Ntakai, one of the Chibok students.

Nearly four years after they were abducted and dragged off to a forest hideout, more than 100 of the students from Chibok now live on a pristine university campus four hours from their homes here in north-eastern Nigeria, their days filled with maths and English classes, karaoke and selfies, and movie nights with popcorn.

The government negotiated for the release of many of the Chibok students, who were set free in groups over the last year and a half. A few others were found roaming the countryside, having escaped their captors.

But more than 100 of their former classmates are still missing, held by Boko Haram. About a dozen are thought to be dead.

“I’m happy,” says Ntakai, who was number 169 on the list. Now, she is a 20-year-old student who rises at dawn for Saturday yoga class and argues about the benefits and dangers of social media during debate night at the university.

“But I’m thinking about my sisters who are still in the back,” in Boko Haram’s clutches, she says.

Nigeria is in its ninth year of war with Boko Haram, a group that has killed and kidnapped thousands of civilians across northern Nigeria. In many respects, the Chibok students, as extraordinary as their plight has been, were just another set of its victims. Many of the young women now consider themselves the lucky ones.

Weeks before the Chibok kidnapping, a group of young boys were burnt alive in their own school, a tragedy that failed to resonate around the world in the same way as the mass abduction of the schoolgirls.

The vast majority of Boko Haram’s victims will remain anonymous and unaccounted for, their names never broadcast across the globe. Many of their families will never even know what happened to them. The crimes committed against them occur in remote areas, far from the reach of mobile phone networks, and often while the world’s attention is elsewhere.

But the Chibok girls had names. Saratu Ayuba. Ruth Amos. Comfort Habila. Esther Usman.

And from a few weeks after they were taken – when Boko Haram broadcast images of its sombre-looking captives, covered from head to toe in long, dark gowns – they had faces.

Teenage students from a village school suddenly became the unwitting representatives of all the dead and missing victims of a crisis that has upended a poor, remote corner of the globe.

They became the daughters of Nigeria, and more broadly daughters of the whole world, embraced and fretted over as if they belonged to everyone.

“When the Chibok abduction happened, it was the articulation of this whole saga,” says Saudatu Mahdi, a cofounder of the Bring Back Our Girls movement. “They became a rallying point.”

But the freed students from Chibok also bear the heavy burden of the celebrity that led to their release.

They are fortunate enough to attend a private university that educates the children of Nigerian politicians, businesspeople and other members of the elite.

But security restrictions on the Chibok students are especially tight. They are not allowed to leave campus without an escort. They can’t have visitors without special permission. And though some of the women gave birth during their captivity, their children are not allowed to stay with them at the university. Administrators say that would distract from their studies.

In fact, the young women have rarely seen their families since they were freed from Boko Haram. The longest period they have spent with their parents, siblings and other relatives since their abduction in 2014 was over Christmas last year, when they went home for a couple of weeks. Other than that, they have been under close supervision by officials and educators.

As soon as they were released from Boko Haram, the women were whisked to Abuja, the capital, where they spent weeks in the government’s custody, questioned for information that could help find their still-missing classmates – and to satisfy officials that they had not grown loyal to Boko Haram.

Security agents warned the young women not to talk about their time with militants, arguing that it might jeopardise the safety of the students still held captive. Forget about the past and move forward, they were told.

For months, their access to their parents was severely restricted. They weren’t allowed to leave the bland government building that was their dormitory. Even today, their only regular connection to their families is by phone.

Last summer, officials at the American University of Nigeria travelled to Abuja to meet with the government. In 2014, the university, in the city of Yola, had taken in about 20 students from Chibok who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram but had managed to escape within hours.

Administrators pitched the government on a plan to take the newly freed women, too. The idea was to incorporate them into a programme designed to help them catch up on their studies, reunite them with their former classmates who were already at the institution and prepare them for university life.

Now the Chibok students’ lives are highly structured. With militants still at large in the country, they are considered high-profile targets. And as public figures, officials fear, they are vulnerable to exploitation.

“They will not be the normal people they were before they were abducted,” says Mahdi, secretary-general of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, an advocacy group for women and girls in Nigeria. “A lot of restrictions will come with their lifestyle.”

Officials at the university had no experience educating a large group of former hostages from a village school. But neither did anyone else.

“We’ll take them all and figure it out,” the university’s president, Dawn Dekle, an American, recalls thinking at the time. “They were traumatised as a group. Their healing has to be in a group.”

All but one of the newly freed students agreed to attend. She had already been married at the time she was kidnapped, so she went back to live on her farm near Chibok with her husband.

At the university, officials scrambled to prepare for the students, renovating a dormitory so they all could be housed together and finding classrooms to accommodate the extra pupils.

The assistant dean of student affairs became the women’s de facto principal. A therapist in the United States, who had counselled some of the early escapees from the kidnapping, was recruited to work as the students’ psychologist. A conference room was designated as a prayer room for the few women who are Muslim. And for the Christian students, the person in charge of the university’s recycling programme, who also serves as a local pastor, leads Sunday services.

Last September, more than 100 of the students arrived at the tidy campus, with its trimmed hedges, three-story library and solar-powered buildings. Not everyone was happy to welcome such a large group of women who had spent the past few years living with militants.

Some of the other students were scared that Boko Haram would come for the Chibok women again, especially at a university representing the sort of Western education that Boko Haram has long condemned.

Others worried that the women had grown attached to their captors and could be terrorists themselves. One student told officials that she feared waking up at night to discover one of the women holding a knife to her neck.

After arriving on campus, the women were escorted to the university canteen for their first meal. The group drew stares from the other students.

“I could tell they were not feeling comfortable,” says Reginald Braggs, a former US navy instructor who is in charge of the programme for the Chibok students.

Rather than force integration, administrators decided to let the new arrivals eat most meals in their dorm.

All in their twenties now, the women are housed at the university, but in a programme that sometimes seems designed for elementary students. Classrooms are decorated with pictures of Spider-Man and basic times tables.

“Remember to flush the toilet and wash your hands,” reads a poster on the bulletin board.

For months, their tablets, all donated, were ordered to be turned off at night. Messages of positive thinking are plastered on every wall: “Never give up”, “Believe in yourself”, “Shine like stars”.

When some of the women were upset at messing up during spelling bees, administrators gave them the words to study ahead of time. Even their church service, during which the women seem relaxed and joyful as they sing and dance on a recent Sunday morning, is watered down. Raymond Obindu, a charismatic speaker who bounces beside the pulpit and uses an equally ebullient interpreter, keeps his sermons for the women more uplifting than the ones he delivers to his local congregation.

“The Bible says you are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Obindu says during the service. “Everyone say, ‘I’m beautiful’.”

“I’m beautiful,” the room of women chants.

He asks if anyone wants to give thanks.

“I thank God for leaving me alive,” says Magret Yama, who was released by Boko Haram last May.

University officials have the women adhere to a busy schedule – including classes on Saturdays – to keep their minds off the past.

“They’ve seen hell together,” says Somiari Demm, a psychologist who counsels the women. Demm also teaches them yoga and attends church services alongside them. “They share the extensive narrative that no one else does.”

The women told their parents that they had endured periods of hunger while with Boko Haram. They were made to cook and clean for fighters. Some were raped. Some have shrapnel lodged under their skin. One is missing part of a leg from injuries suffered with Boko Haram.

Ntakai Keki, 60, says his daughter Hauwa has told him that the militants beat girls who disagreed with them or refused to follow orders. She was once lashed 30 times with a cane, he says.

Hauwa told him that she saw the dead bodies of children who were being held hostage and witnessed fighters die of wounds from aerial bombings by the military.

“That has all ended now,” Keki says.

Psychologically, Braggs says more than half of the women were in what he calls the red zone. “They’re just sad or down,” he says.

University officials do not let journalists ask the women about their experiences with the militants, arguing that it could traumatise them further.

“They’re grown women by American standards,” Braggs says. “Even physically they are grown women. But look at their social development. They’re still very vulnerable.”

“I’m very, very cautious about people thinking I’m overprotective,” he adds. “I don’t think they’re children. But there’s a certain responsibility I’ve been given.”

At the university, the women are instructed to speak only English, a language most of them struggle with (they grew up speaking Hausa and local languages). Other than a few staff members posted to their dorm, most of the people in charge of the women can’t communicate with them in their own languages – including the women’s psychologist, their teachers and the director, Braggs.

A handful of the women speak English well. Some are using preschool-level phonics books. Yet most of the women’s counselling sessions are carried out in English, raising questions about the depth of their therapy.

Demm contends that some of the Chibok students who had initially escaped the kidnapping had travelled to the United States, only to be exploited by people there. She says they were made to repeatedly recount the night Boko Haram came to their school, with their testimonies used to solicit donations for churches or other organisations.

Demm argues that she wants to empower the students in her care to tell their own stories, in their own time.

For now, she says, the hardest adjustment for the women is “being free, but not really free”.

Recently, one of the women, Glory Dama, learnt that her father was being treated for an illness at a hospital not far from campus. She wanted to see him, so the university prepared to organise an escort for her. Before it happened, though, he was discharged and relatives drove him back to Chibok, without waiting for Dama to arrive. He died on the way.

Dama was devastated, and as the news travelled through the group so were the other women. Activities were cancelled for the rest of the day.

The women, who spend their days in air-conditioned classrooms equipped with wifi, know that their current circumstances are vastly better than those of most people who have escaped or been freed from Boko Haram.

Militants have beheaded some of their captives, conscripted others to carry out murders and strapped suicide bombs to women who were the same age as the students from Chibok. Some captives freed from Boko Haram have been placed in crowded military barracks for months. Others live in squalid government camps where they have been raped by security forces and struggle to find enough to eat.

Dama wants to take university classes, return to Chibok and be a nurse to help her community. Another student, Rhoda Peter, wants to be a lawyer.

“I know I’m in a place where nobody will chase me and do something wrong to us,” says Peter, 22. “They are here to help us.”

In February, about 170 miles from Chibok, the unfathomable happened again.

Boko Haram stormed a secondary school in a village called Dapchi and left with more than 100 female teenage captives.

The nation began to mourn the kidnapping of yet another set of schoolgirls. Then, late last month, the militants suddenly brought most of the girls home safely, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

The Nigerian government says it is negotiating for the release of the rest of the missing girls from Dapchi, as well as the dozens of students from Chibok who are still being held captive.

Grace Hamman, a Chibok student who was released from Boko Haram last year, says she took comfort during her time in captivity in the knowledge that she hadn’t been forgotten.

“I heard on the radio people were crying for us and were concerned,” she recalls. “I thank everyone for what they did for us.”




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