International (MNN) — In the world of human rights, women face discrimination on multiple fronts: age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion. These offenses often fall under the umbrella term, “gender gap.”
Under the theme “Women and Persecution,” last month’s Marcham Conference was a partnership between groups like Open Doors International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Voice of the Martyrs, Release International, larger church bodies (denominations), and other think tanks.
Together, the groups explored the extent of the gender gap problem and potential solutions. Considering first the status and treatment of women in patriarchal cultures, the group then looked at the findings from the March 22 Pew Research Study.
The study indicated women are generally more religious than men, although that varied by context and ideology. For example, among Muslims and Orthodox religions (often found in more male-dominant cultures), men are more likely than women to regularly attend worship services.
But, among Christians around the world, it is women who are the more devout, regularly attending services and engaging in prayer. Given the increase in frequency, severity, and scale of persecution (in the form of genocide in some areas), female followers of Christ disproportionately witness and experience violence.
In short, women are doubly vulnerable to persecution because of faith and gender.
Conference participants drafted an open letter to the global Church, including a demand that it openly acknowledges the extent and severity of violence against Christian women – especially in communities under pressure for their faith.
For context, Open Doors’ World Watch List is a ranking of the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the most severe. This year’s report reveals that Islamic extremism is the primary driving factor in 35 out of the top 50 states.
Open Doors USA’s communications director, Emily Fuentes, uses Nigeria to explain a woman’s susceptibility to this kind of prejudice.
Boko Haram (Hausa for “Western education is sin”) is the Islamic extremist group based in Nigeria and connected to ISIS. Among the deadliest terror groups in the world, they’ve made a point out of targeting men and killing them. “It might seem that men are more persecuted, but the reality is these killings are strategic. It’s to make the rest of the family suffer.”
She explains that in Nigeria, the men are the breadwinners. “These women have no job skills training, no education, no way of providing for the family and it’s a way of killing off both women and children.” The pattern is similar in other countries under Sharia law: annihilate the enemy; burn the root.
In places like India, or Nepal, says Fuentes, it’s a different approach with a similar outcome. “Extreme Hinduism sees any form of Christianity as a threat, and again, women in those societies are often seen as second-class citizens. Mixing both of those things, women are especially mistreated by those groups.”
You’d think that, faced with this kind of threat, women would be leaving these areas in droves. The makeup of the refugee crisis seems to be largely women and children, so it appears a large number are fleeing. However, Fuentes points out that, “A lot of times Christians have been persecuted [for] so long, systematically, that they’re too poor to do anything. They can’t get up and leave, even if they wanted to, but then also, they feel the call to remain, to be the light of Christ in their countries.”
The paradox of persecution: in places where persecution is most rabid, the Gospel spreads more quickly. Open Doors is committed to supporting the women and families that choose to stay behind. “It’s vital that we provide programs for however persecution is materializing, to meet them where they’re at, and provide for them– whether it’s job skills training, education, refugee care–just to equip the Church to remain strong.”