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International Women's Day: On the frontline

07 March 2017

International Women's Day

Women and girls are on the frontline of persecution. In many parts of the world, they already face discrimination because of their gender, and being a Christian only makes this worse. Karen*, an Open Doors trauma care worker in the Middle East, explains: "Women are marginalised in the Middle East and North Africa region, however they have a double vulnerability when they are Christian, and so Christian women are at higher risk of abuse in certain areas."

Karen has counselled Christian women who have been sexually abused by members of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS); IS's propaganda magazine has said that IS fighters are allowed to rape non-Muslim women.

And it's not just in the Middle East and North Africa where women experience this double vulnerability. In sub-Saharan Africa, Boko Haram militants have raped Christian women on the basis of 'sex as jizya', a reference to a tax that early Islamic rulers demanded from non-Muslim subjects in return for protection. By targeting women, entire families and Christian communities are 'dishonoured', regularly leading husbands to reject wives who are victims of rape.

But women are not just victims of persecution; they are often the church's secret weapon. Nguyet, a Christian woman from Vietnam, says, "From 1986 to 2001, the men in our church couldn't go out to evangelise. The police always followed them. The ones who spread the gospel, then, were the women."

Despite the risks they face, many of our persecuted sisters are bold in sharing their faith, and often lead the way in serving others. Rebecca, an Open Doors partner in Nigeria, was forced to flee her home twice to escape Boko Haram - but she has started a small NGO to serve widows and orphans in her city. She says, "We were all refugees at that time and we all needed help, but I saw that many widows needed more help than I did." Her team of volunteers are supporting 2,000 widows every month.

Open Doors workers and partners work to provide trauma care and train others in trauma care to help women who have experienced sexual violence in nations such as Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. We also support the ministries of women like Nguyet and Rebecca with training and resources.

Stand with your persecuted sisters

As we celebrate International Women's Day on 8 March, here are three ways you can support your persecuted sisters around the world:

  • Pray - for protection, provision and boldness for our persecuted sisters. Use our prayer resources to help you.
  • Give. Every £30 can provide two days of trauma care training for a church leader or lay leader to help them bring healing to others in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Speak out. Women have faced the most brutal persecution at the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The One Million Voices of Hope petition is asking for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. Sign the petition, or if you've already signed it, download a copy and ask others to sign it too.