Nigeria move shows influence of women

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The White House’s move to dispatch a crisis team to Nigeria to assist in the search for nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls has underscored the political and foreign policy muscle female lawmakers and administration officials are now flexing in Washington. 

The abduction of the schoolgirls, who were targeted by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram for seeking a Western-style education, has become a cause célèbre for prominent female officials.

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And the administration’s move Tuesday to send military, intelligence and law enforcement officials to Abuja — a clear escalation in U.S. involvement from prior intelligence sharing — highlighted the influential role women play.

Every woman in the Senate signed on to a letter calling for tougher sanctions against the kidnappers, who have threatened to sell the girls into sexual slavery, and members signaled they would be pushing for tougher actions from the White House.

“I think we have to take the lead here,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who helped organize the letter, told CNN on Wednesday, adding the crisis “has gone on far too long.”

Klobuchar’s Republican colleague, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), has proven a leading advocate of even more aggressive intervention, calling for the deployment of U.S. troops. 

“More can be done by this administration,” Collins told the network. “I would like to see Special Forces deployed to help rescue these young girls.”

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also called for U.S. action during a moment of silence dedicated to the girls.

And at a press conference Wednesday, five female House members, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) called for the creation of a relief fund to support the Nigerian victims of Boko Haram. 

Women in Congress have shown their growing clout, especially when acting in concert. The 20 female U.S. senators are the most in U.S. history, and the 79 women serving in the House also set a high-water mark.

High-ranking women in the Obama administration have also taken a leading role in the response to the kidnappings.

U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, who has written and spoken extensively on the need for the U.S. to use its clout to prevent human-rights atrocities, said she would ask the Security Council to authorize additional targeted sanctions against those responsible for the kidnapping.

At an event on Wednesday, Power noted that “women’s networks … are lighting up around the country and around the world about these girls.”

And President Obama undoubtedly consulted national security adviser Susan Rice before finalizing an assistance team. Rice and Obama met with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan last year in New York, where Obama denounced Boko Haram as “one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world.”

The president cited his daughters while explaining his decision to send in the assistance team during a round of television interviews Wednesday.

“As the father of two girls, I can’t imagine what the parents are going through,” Obama told CBS News.