All of the Senate's women members and the top members of several Senate committees have been invited to a classified briefing to discuss the group behind the kidnappings of nearly 300 Nigerian girls last month.
The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs will hold a hearing Thursday on the threat of Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic militant group that has acknowledged kidnapping the girls and threatening to sell them as wives, reports The New York Times.
All 20 of the women serving in the Senate last week signed a letter imploring President Barack Obama to take further steps to condemn the extremist group behind the kidnappings, The Washington Post
Sens. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, circulated the letter asking Obama to request that the United Nations classify Boko Haram as a terrorist organization and impose sanctions against it.
"When I started rounding up support on the Senate floor, the response I would get was: 'Where should I sign? I'm outraged too,'" Collins told The Times. "There was no need to convince, or cajole, or persuade."
In addition to being invited to Thursday's briefing, the women senators gathered Tuesday for a private dinner with Secretary of State John Kerry and pushed their plan for the U.N. designation, reports The Times.
Further, they called for Kerry's help to provide surveillance assets to try to find the girls, and to consider providing a Special Forces team to rescue the missing girls. They also asked Kerry's help in coordinating the search through an international effort.
"The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice," Kerry said on Wednesday.
The State Department has already designated the organization a terrorist group, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's
State Department has come under fire for declining to add the group to its official list long ago. Boko Haram was not designated as a terrorist organization until last November, months after Clinton left office.
The al-Qaida-linked group bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja in 2011, but Clinton fought for almost two years against the designation, despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and more than a dozen senators and congressmen.
The kidnappings are "horrendous," said Collins, noting that comments made by group leader Abubakar Shekau "that girls should be married between ages 9 and 12 and should be denied any kind of education call out for a vigorous response from all around the world — men and women alike."
The women senators' demands for action lend a powerful force to the rising demands for action in Nigeria, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "While it's important for all the members of the Senate to speak out, it is powerful when the women come together across party lines to speak out, and they become the messenger."
The girls' kidnappings have been condemned worldwide, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls
building a social media outcry and a Saturday address from first lady Michelle Obama.
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