Open Doors’ See.Change. campaign seeks to highlight and honour the worth, value and purpose of Christian women and girls across the world. But why is this campaign even needed? Here we explain why millions of our sisters are acutely vulnerable to persecution for their faith and their gender, and how you can help them see change.
You're helping Kabita from Nepal see change in her life
Whenever her sister shared the gospel, Kabita* from Nepal – who grew up a Hindu – refused to listen. But when she fell ill, she turned to her sister’s God in desperation. Amazingly, she gave her life to Jesus, and gradually she was miraculously healed. “It was God’s plan to bring sickness into my life so that I could believe in Him,” she shares.
But sadly, her decision to follow Jesus went down badly with members of her family – including her husband.
"I was despised and left alone. But all these hardships couldn’t waver my faith in Christ" 'Kabita'
“At the time, my husband was staying away from home for work,” she recalls. “When he found out about my new faith, he called me constantly and threatened me, telling me to renounce my faith. After a few months, he returned home and abused me physically. He also gave me a choice: either to leave Jesus or him. But I was firm in my faith. So he left me and married another woman.”
“My family members constantly pressured me to give up my faith,” she continues. “They stopped talking to me and didn’t help me financially. But I never gave up. One day, my father-in-law gathered some villagers and provoked them against me. He told me to leave my house if I wouldn’t leave my faith. But those threats didn’t shake my faith.”
Kabita remained steadfast in her faith, even as her family tried changing tack. “He [her father-in-law] stopped providing electricity in my room,” she explains. “I had to use candles or a cell-phone’s light to light the house during the night. I was despised and left alone. But all these hardships couldn’t waver my faith in Christ.”
Tragically, Kabita’s story is not unusual. Across the world, Christian women suffer not only because of their faith but also their gender. This persecution tends to be violent, complex and hidden.
Violence against Christian women and girls continues to rise around the world – be that sexual, physical or psychological. Sexual violence can be overt, such as Christian women being abducted by Boko Haram and used as sex slaves, or it can be covert, under the guise of forced marriage, for example. Given the 'honour' culture of many societies, sexual violence is often used to intentionally shame and stigmatise victims as well as their families and communities. This can result in a breakdown in relationships – for instance, parents no longer want to be associated with their daughter.
This shame and stigma feeds into a key reason why physical violence is also common against Christian women and girls. Men attack with impunity because victims keep quiet for fear of the dishonour it will bring and poor legal frameworks mean wrongdoing often goes punished. This, in turn, makes women and girls increasingly vulnerable to psychological violence.
The persecution faced by millions of our sisters is complex because of the compounding effect one vulnerability has on another.
In Kabita’s story, she was reliant on her husband and immediate family for financial support. But when this was taken away from her because of decision to follow Jesus, she was left financially exposed – all the more so since she has children to look after. It’s a similar story for widows like Peninah. In Kenya, as with much of sub-Saharan Africa, widows are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. When her husband was killed for refusing to deny Jesus, Peninah and her son should have been supported by her in-laws, but they weren’t.
In Iran, Sahar was thrown out of her home for converting from Islam to Christianity. As a female convert, she had no rights in her culture. "They would not even let me see my children," she remembers, "because all my rights were taken away as a convert." Her ordeal went unnoticed, like so many women and girls who experience persecution that is hidden from the rest of the world.
There are other factors that make this a complex issue. As mentioned above, women and girls can be targeted to bring suffering to entire families and communities. This includes attempts to undermine their numerical growth through tactics such as forced marriage and trafficking.
The persecution of our sisters is often hidden – in society, in the home, and in the data.
In honour-shame cultures, such as India, many of the methods used to persecute Christian women and girls result in stigma – indeed, this is often a key reason behind attacks. For example, rape victims are often viewed by society as sexually impure, making them vulnerable to rejection and limiting their future prospects.
The persecution of our sisters often takes place behind the seeming respectability of everyday life in the home. Forced marriage, sexual violence and house arrest all take place against the backdrop of normalised behaviour, with little to suggest anything untoward. In India, 15-year-old Tara was imprisoned in her own home – not even allowed to use the kitchen in case she polluted food and water with her ‘unclean faith’. “Nobody speaks to me,” she said. “I am estranged in my own home.” Thankfully, she now lives elsewhere, but her story is a stark reminder of how our sisters can be cruelly and subtly targeted by their own family.
"God heard my prayers and sent His people to help me" Kabita
And finally, while statistics and information are available to demonstrate how much our persecuted sisters are at risk, often this doesn’t tell the full story. Victims may hide details to protect their family. In turn, families may be reluctant to tell others for fear of reputational damage that could impact on social standing, work or access to communal resources. Men may be reluctant to give corroborative evidence because it implies that they’ve failed to protect their family. Furthermore, most government data collection methods do not show female-specific freedom of religion or belief violations; instead, they aggregate incidents against both genders.
In many cultures, women do not hold the same value as men. This undergirds much of the persecution faced by our sisters. And in many cases, being a Christian means they are regarded as having even less worth.
Open Doors’ vision is that every woman who is persecuted for her faith and gender is seen, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential. This is the heart behind Open Doors' See.Change. campaign, which seeks to raise support for our persecuted sisters and highlight their plight, not just among Christians, but those in the corridors of power.
Kabita’s story is a sober reminder of the suffering experienced by so many Christian women and girls across the world. But it’s also a welcome demonstration of how your support can help our sisters see change. Thanks to you, Kabita is now able to earn a living through goat farming. “God heard my prayers and sent His people to help me,” Kabita shares. “It has multiplied and been a great help for me. It has made me independent. I want to thank God and His people who took care of me in my difficult situation.”
*Name changed for security reasons
Heavenly Father, all of us, male and female, are made in Your image. Thank You for the worth and value we have in You. Minister this wonderful truth to each of our sisters who need to know this today. May they feel Your love in a way they have never previously known. Bring change to their lives so that they can flourish relationally, spiritually and vocationally. May the stories of our sisters reach the hearts of those in power so that they are stirred to decisive action on their behalf. Protect our sisters, heal their wounds, and restore all they’ve lost. Amen.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.