Open Doors recently launched its ‘See. Change.’ campaign to raise awareness of the unique challenges faced by Christian women who are in countries where followers of Jesus sustain the most severe persecution.

In an interview with the Evangelical Alliance, Erin James, content writer at Open Doors UK, answers some key questions about the campaign and the horrific persecution endured by Christian women, and makes an appeal to the UK church to put its weight behind the drive. 

Why are Christian women subject to even greater persecution than their male counterparts?

Sadly, women in conservative societies are treated as inferior simply because of their gender; they often lack the economic, social or political agency afforded to men. As a religious minority, Christians are discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. These two identities, female and Christian, create a double vulnerability to persecution. 

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Open Doors partners around the world that report on persecution for the World Watch List, the annual rankings of the worst places in the world to hold a Christian faith, report distinct gender differences in persecution for men and women. Sexual violence and rape are among the most commonly cited forms of attack on Christian women. Men most frequently face economic pressures, like being passed over for a promotion. 

The persecution of Christian women is hidden from the view of wider society, sometimes because the shame and stigma make women less willing to come forward and also because persecution is often family enforced and not state sanctioned. Female converts to Christianity are often imprisoned by their disapproving family at home rather than in a state facility. Persecution of Christian women is also characterised as complex because it blends in with culturally accepted mistreatment of women and because persecution often involves attacks from multiple angles. 

The social and legal status of Christian women means it is much easier and less risky to persecute them and, at the same time, persecution is much harder to track and stop.

Why has Open Doors launched the See. Change. campaign?

Open Doors wants Christians around the world to understand that persecuted Christian women are doubly vulnerable. Shockingly, the persecution of Christian women is invisible, unseen and ignored by the world around them. What’s more, some types of persecution, such as sexual violence, lead to ostracism for Christian women. These women are often abandoned by their community, struggle to earn a living, and lack the basic necessities for life. 

Esther, from north-east Nigeria, who was held prisoner and forced to marry a Boko Haram fighter, courageously refused to deny her faith when she was abducted by Boko Haram as a teenager. Esther was pregnant when she managed escape. When she returned to her village, her community mocked her for being a Boko Haram woman’. Even her own relatives called her daughter Boko’ instead of Rebecca.

Open Doors has provided financial support for Esther and Rebecca as well as trauma counselling. But, there are millions of women like Esther, who are doubly at risk of persecution, both because of their gender and because of their faith in Jesus. Open Doors is asking people to shine a light on this issue so that persecuted women know their Christian family around the world sees and supports them, and so we can see change in government policy.

Open Doors’ vision is that every woman who is persecuted because of her faith and gender is seen, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential.

What does Open Doors hope to accomplish through the drive?

Open Doors wants the church in the UK and Ireland to see the women of the persecuted church and to play their part in helping these women to change their lives. As well as raising awareness of this unseen issue, Open Doors is raising support for vital fieldwork to ensure women are treated with care and dignity, seen when isolated, empowered to read, and enabled to earn to support their family. We also want to reassure them that God sees and loves them no matter what they have suffered. 

What does Open Doors hope to achieve by presenting the campaign to the UK government at its Preventing Sexual Violence conference? 

Research from across the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List suggests that sexual violence is one of the most common forms of attack against Christian women. Sadly, in places of conflict such as Syria and Nigeria, sexual violence is weaponised. If the act itself doesn’t kill these women, the trauma and stigma, potential pregnancies and diseases wreak havoc on their lives for generations. It is vital that these women do not live their lives in shame. We must support their mental and physical healing and help them to restore their lives. 

The conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict is a great opportunity for us to ensure our sisters, who are doubly vulnerable, are made visible to the highest powers in our land, and ensure that they are seen and recognised in UK government policy on sexual violence in conflict. We also want to galvanise the UK church to respond to the plight of our persecuted sisters by standing together in unity and pushing for appropriate policy change.

What specifically would Open Doors like the UK government to do to help address these issues?

Open Doors hopes to get senior cross-party members involved and aware of this vital issue. We want their attention and support for women of the persecuted church. We hope they will understand that in order to address the problem of sexual violence in conflict, the double vulnerability of both faith and gender needs to be recognised. Amongst others recommendations, we would like UK government policy to support local churches in delivering appropriate trauma care for women of the persecuted church.

How can the UK church get behind Open Doors and vulnerable Christian women around the world?

First of all, pray. Pray for your sisters, like Esther and Rebecca, who are unknown to you but seen by God. Pray for courage and strength for them. Secondly, if you are able, please give. Many of the women Open Doors works with have very little education or economic agency. When persecution hits, they have no way of supporting themselves. Every £9 could provide a monthly food pack to keep a Nigerian widow and her family alive.

At Open Doors we have seen that when supporters speak out, leaders listen. So we want you to tell the government to take note of this vital issue by signing your name on a piece of cloth, which will be sewn with thousands of others into a huge banner that says See. Change.’ This will be presented to the UK government in November during the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict conference, as a unified prayer and plea on behalf of our sisters.