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Us/Leah Gordon
World News

Christian women doubly vulnerable to persecution because of faith and gender, says trauma care expert

Tirham (whose name has been changed for security reasons), an Open Doors partner, provides counselling to women and girls who have been raped, kidnapped and/or used as sex slaves by Boko Haram fighters or Fulani militants. Many of them are specifically targeted for kidnapping because of their faith.

"So many things happen today that people outside Nigeria don't really believe are happening, like many women being kidnapped, raped, some of them being killed. It's clear to us but to the outside world it's hidden," Tirham said.

"Everywhere, people are attacked by armed robbers, kidnappers, Fulani militants and Boko Haram fighters. It feels like everybody is walking in a minefield and, at any moment, there might be an explosion. People carry hurt and wounds on their hearts and they need to be cared for."

Tirham works with women who have suicidal thoughts because, after being freed by their kidnappers, they are often not accepted back by their families and communities. Without support, they cannot cope with the double trauma of being kidnapped and then rejected.

Tirham will testify to the stigma these women and girls face upon their return and share stories about how trauma care has helped survivors overcome this. She will also talk about the work Open Doors partners do to change the mind-set of husbands and communities from that of stigma to support.

The trauma care centre where Tirham works - recently built by Open Doors - sees many women healed psychologically.
"Some people come here and you understand from their expression that they are traumatised, you know that they are hurting inside. After working with them for just a week, you can see their expressions change - there's a glow on their faces," says Tirham.

Open Doors aims to encourage the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) to recognise faith as a specific vulnerability in tackling gender-based violence. Open Doors believes that, in many countries, the persecution of faith and sexual violence against women are inextricably linked.

The Handmade Petition: I See You is an art installation highlighting the double vulnerability of women who are persecuted for both their faith and their gender. It has been created by more than 16,000 Open Doors supporters, as well as more than 250 women from across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America who have been persecuted for both their faith and gender.

The petition is made up of over 16,000 handmade squares of fabric. Each square has the words 'I see you' and the signature of its creator sewn or written onto it, as a unified recognition of doubly vulnerable persecuted women whose plight is, according to Open Doors' research, largely unseen and unnoticed.

In addition, the art installation opened by Tirham will display portraits of Nigerian women who have experienced persecution for both their faith and gender. The portraits are by Hannah Rose Thomas, a British artist who, facilitated by Open Doors, visited northern Nigeria to run art therapy sessions with Nigerian women who have been victims of sexual violence by Boko Haram or Fulani militants. Each portrait will be accompanied by the woman's story which highlights the double vulnerability created by faith and gender.

The installation supports Open Doors' women's campaign, which aims to restore the hope, dignity and identity of women who are doubly at risk of persecution because of their Christian faith. Open Doors has encouraged the new government to continue supporting these aims through its commitment to Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The Open Doors' Handmade Petition exhibition will be in Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, on 17th -24th November. Admission is free.

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