There is a growing, hidden, “shadow pandemic” of violence, abduction and trafficking directed towards Christian women and girls around the world, according to a new report from Open Doors USA. “Same Faith, Different Persecution,” published ahead of International Women’s Day, explores targeted Gender-Specific Religious Persecution (GSRP) over 12 months between October 2019 – September 2020.
“On International Women’s Day, we need policy-makers to understand the opposition Christian women around the world face, as they attempt to peacefully live out their chosen faith,” says report co-author Helene Fisher.
Focusing largely on the 50 countries highlighted in Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, where Christians face the worst persecution and oppression, the report shows that forced marriages increased by 16 percent; and 17 countries reporting incidents of trafficked women and girls (up from 10 the previous year).
Traffickers commonly target forced migrant populations, making Christian refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) particularly vulnerable. In Somalia and Somaliland for example, violence between clans and from Islamic extremist groups has forced many to flee.
“The situation for people in general in IDP camps is very precarious there,” an Open Doors country expert comments, “let alone when they are Christians—even more so for women and girls.”
Trafficking and forced marriage are commonly used by persecutors to retaliate against Christian families living in communities with religiously-motivated discrimination.
“Females can be married without their consent, raped and beaten behind closed doors, and divorced and disinherited overnight,” states the report. “Reports of physical violence increased by 31 percent compared to 2020’s GSRP report. The increase reflects the reality that in a year of global lockdown, domestic violence was increasingly used as a tool to control women, particularly Christian converts.”
An additional key finding is the continued rise in reported rape and other sexual violence against Christian women. One unnamed persecution worker in the Central African Republic says, “This violence is a persecution weapon, a way of making Christian women vulnerable and also traumatizing the community.”
Authors of the report, Eva Brown, Helene Fisher, Elizabeth Lane Miller and Rachel Morley, emphasize that governments and policymakers must acknowledge that a person’s faith – especially when combined with their gender – can make them more vulnerable in conflict situations.
“It’s time that the faith factor is acknowledged. While race and gender are acknowledged as vulnerabilities in conflict zones, a person’s faith, generally is not,” says Fisher.
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with the threat of persecution and to mobilize the Western church to pray and advocate for the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. For more information, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.