By Andrew Boyd
Christian women are increasingly suffering atrocities as a deliberate weapon of warfare and tactic of jihad.
And they are becoming especially vulnerable in countries where both their faith and their gender are marginalised.
An international conference held in Oxford heard that radicals are targeting wives and daughters as a way of intimidating and demoralising Christian pastors, most of whom are male, in areas of religious conflict.
“Increasing numbers of women face a double blow today – violent attacks against them because of their Christian faith, and because they are women,” said conference organiser ‘Kate Ward’ (whose identity is being protected).
The conference was held to find solutions to the growing problem of violent persecution against Christian women.
Christian women can face rape, kidnapping, forced marriage, legal discrimination, reprisals for conversion, sexual harassment, restrictions on freedom of dress and movement, false charges, trafficking, and employment discrimination.
“Some of these women are loved and accepted, but sadly not all. Others are victimised again by their own families for having been violated”, Kate Ward told the Marcham Conference, Women and Persecution.
“The greatest offence or violation one can bring to a community is to target their women and children,” she added.
“We see this heartbreaking issue in the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Iraq. The rejection of their communities and their husbands extends the pain and suffering for women.”
Displacement by war has massively increased the risk for Christian women. The Syrian conflict has exposed the reality of organised trafficking and the enslaving of refugees on the move.
Even within the church
But the problem of violent abuse against women also exists within the Church, wherever prevailing cultures of inequality have yet to be replaced by a biblical worldview that values women.
Said Kate Ward: ‘An experienced Bible teacher who travels to areas of persecution told me recently: “How many times do I finish a session, to see a wife nudge a senior pastor, who then comes to me and says, ‘I beat my wife. How can you help me?’”
Speaker Peter Grant of Restored said, “In Zimbabwe, a pastor said, ‘I expect my wife to bow down before me as I bow down before Christ.’”
“What grieves me the most,” said Kate Ward, “is that the historical inequality issues of 19th century Britain are today’s issues for Christian women all over the world.”
Call to action
The Marcham Conference will issue a call to action for the global Church to include openly acknowledging “the epidemic of violence against Christian women.”
And it will seek to identify strategies for change that can be applied to situations around the world.
‘The problem is vast. Churches, agencies and voluntary organisations will have to work together at every level,’ said Kate Ward. ‘We will have to find ways to cross cultural boundaries and challenge taboos. It will require the deepest levels of engagement and collaboration.
‘I pray that many nations will be transformed as we take time out to think, pray, discuss, argue, consider – and go out and get on with it.’
Cultural and religious abuse
There is often a blurring of the lines between cultural and religious abuse. A British-born woman, who cannot be identified, told her story to the conference.
‘Armina’ had been abused as a child by her father, who was a leader in the Islamic community. While still a child, her father declared she was to be taken abroad for an arranged marriage – immediately.
“My dad said I would be flying out the next day. It was the first I had heard about it. I wasn’t ready to be anyone’s wife.”
Armina ran away from home and lived on the streets for a week before she was taken in and cared for by a Christians. She was later found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I felt depressed and suicidal because of the shame I was carrying for betraying my family,” she said. “I was named as a traitor.”
Through the love and acceptance of some Christians, she went on to embrace the Christian faith. Yet many other Christians who did not understand her situation considered her to blame for the abuse. Today Armina is helping other women from a Muslim background.
The Marcham Conference was organised by Release International in partnership with Open Doors, Restored, Interserve, World Vision, Turkic Belt Ministries, ADF International, Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Voice of the Martyrs USA, All Nations Christian College.