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Parent of a Chibok girl abducted by Boko Haram banner.jpg
Open Doors International
Parent of a Chibok girl abducted by Boko Haram.jpg
Open Doors International
World News

Christian women twice as vulnerable to persecution due to gender

by Heather Preston

As Christians face growing intolerance across the world, women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to exploitation due to their gender.

The number of Christians at risk of persecution across the globe has risen by 15 million in the past year.

That's according to the findings of religious freedom charity Open Doors, which released its annual World Watch List of the countries where Christian's experience the most extreme oppression on Wednesday.

Statistics reveal that every day an average 23 Christians are raped or sexually harassed due to their religious beliefs, a large majority of these are women.

In Pakistan - Where Christians make up just two percent of the population some 1,000 Christian Hindu girls are abducted every year.

Females can be at particular risk due to their lack of societal power in nations where Christianity is a minority religion, making it harder for them to combat the kind of persecution they face. 

According to Open Doors, men are more likely to be arrested or even killed for their faith but the abuse many women experience is "less visible" and can often go "unnoticed", leaving many suffering in silence.

Christian Leah Sharibu was one of 109 Nigerian school girls captured by Islamic militant group Boko Haram in 2018. The 15 year old was the only female not to be released by the terror group after she refused to denounce her Christian faith.

Speaking to Premier, advocacy campaigner Izzy Stark says her case displays how Christian women can face a double persecution for both their faith and their gender: "She was taken because she was a girl, but she was kept in captivity because of her faith. What we've seen at OpenDoors is that the form of persecution that Christian women experience is often hidden. It's violent, and it's complex."

Northeastern Nigeria, an area severely affected by Boko Haram

Forced marriage, house arrest, abduction and sexual harassment are amongst the forms of "hidden" persecution Christian women in at-risk countries can experience. Stark explains that in a number of cases, women are taken in secret and experience extreme sexual violence for long periods of time before their whereabouts is discovered. She says following their release, many are then at risk of being rejected or ostracised by their communities as a result of the treatment they have experienced.

Stark says a woman's gender can be a powerful tool in conflict: "What we've seen in places like Egypt, India and Bangladesh, is if you can target the pastor's wife or children, then you are making the church more vulnerable, because that's the Achilles heel for the family. It kind of brings down the whole church, and also women are much easier to abduct.

Open Doors helps to provide trauma care, counselling and discipleship programmes to Christian women in high-risk countries and is campaigning for the UK government to recognise faith as a vulnerability along with gender, age and disability. The charity wants to see an increase in the funding for and exposure of the hidden sexual violence experienced by women in places of conflict.

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