Sexual violence leaves persecuted Christian women in ‘living death,’ hidden and isolated

Written by Release

Published: 21 February 2020

Christian girls and women in some countries are facing especially devastating forms of persecution according to a persecution watchdog group.

Globally, the two most-reported persecutions used against Christian women and girls globally are sexual violence and forced marriage. Both were identified by 84 per cent of respondents from the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, according to Open Doors’ annual World Watch List (2020), published in mid-January.

Open Doors International releases its third Gender-Specific Religious Persecution (GSRP) report on February 24, 2020, with events in Toronto and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to follow. This report studies global patterns of persecution experienced by Christian men and women across the 50 countries on the 2020 World Watch List and reinforces that persecution is gender-specific. Even when the situation is difficult for all members of a given Christian community, the situation of women is often worse because of their additional gender-based vulnerabilities.

In the countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian (the top 11 of the World Watch List 2020), women and girls describe this persecution, at its peak, as a kind of ‘living death’ (sexual violence, forced marriage, house arrest). In these instances, sexual violence is used both as a form of control and punishment. This ‘living death’ is experienced acutely by women who are converts from another faith – such as Islam or Buddhism. While these women are physically alive, they are hidden and isolated, separated from their Christian community and Church. This isolation also results in a lack of reporting of their experiences.

Open Doors says that in every region of the world, sexual violence continues to be the most prevalent means of exerting power and control over Christian women and girls, as well as to punish them. Often this sexual violence is outside marriage; but sometimes a woman/girl is forced into an unwelcome marriage, at times even with the perpetrator himself. It is used intentionally to dishonour the Christian woman/girl and, consequently, her family and community.

Open Doors’ Global Gender Persecution Specialist, Helene Fisher, says, “This year’s report highlights the lifelong impact of the persecution women and girls suffer because of their faith. When women and girls are sexually assaulted, they endure untold mental and physical abuse while also sometimes trapped in ‘marriages’ against their will. Even if they can escape the terrors of this fate, a devastating stigma and rejection will now follow them for the rest of their life. This shame is meant to leave these women alive but with no future. Sadly, even in Christian communities, rejection is practiced out of shame and a lack of knowledge. No future for them also means they won’t be part of a future family within their religious community.”

While the forced marriage gives an appearance of respectability, it can also become merely a contract for sexual violence from which a woman cannot escape, and within which other forms of violence and pressure are exerted.

The next most common Pressure Points are physical violence and forced divorce. Physical violence is a newcomer to the top three gender-specific Pressure Points for women; instances have been reported in nearly two-thirds of the top 50 WWL countries.

Gender-specific persecution affects men, women, boys and girls alike – no demographic is spared. Across these Christian communities, however, it is women and girls who typically face the hardest circumstances of all.

Open Doors’ World Watch Research 2020 Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report releases on February 24, 2020, in time for International Women’s Day. The report features data gathered for the 50 countries appearing in the World Watch List (WWL) 2020 for the reporting period November 1, 2018, to October 31, 2019. Data was also gathered for 23 additional World Watch countries. In response, Open Doors is recommending that action be taken by international bodies, national governments and persons of influence in spiritual positions as well as the Global Church to address the double vulnerability of women and girls from religious minorities.

Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch will be launched to Parliamentarians on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 11, 2020, with a special emphasis on the Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report.