America is currently experiencing a reckoning in terms of gender violence and harassment. Countless women have begun speaking out about the abuse they've endured from powerful men, and the #metoo movement has sparked an awareness of a prevalent problem that has often gone unreported or been willfully ignored. As Oprah Winfrey stated in her Golden Globes speech, "a new day is on the horizon."
But while America may be showing signs of hope in this area, the situation for tens of millions of Christian women around the world remains bleak and often tragic.
According to a a new report by Open Doors USA, a watchdog organization that monitors global religious persecution, Christian women often face "double persecution" due to their faith and gender. Every day, six Christian women are reportedly raped, sexually harassed or forced to marry under threat of execution due to their faith. Open Doors has documented more than 2,200 such incidents.
The plight of Christian women is a global crisis that has gone unseen for too long. I talked with Open Doors CEO David Curry about the issue and how America’s #metoo reckoning can spread to women worldwide.
RS: You report that Christian women, in particular, are the most vulnerable to religious persecution worldwide. This seems intuitive, of course, but can you expand on why women face particular persecution? Where do you see this most acutely? How does the church in these areas work to try and protect women and why is it difficult for them to do so?
DC: With Islamic extremists, and also Hindu extremists in India and Nepal, women are particularly vulnerable pawns in their religious wars. Raping, sexual harassment, and forced marriages are not uncommon tactics for extremists to use. Some sex traffickers, for instance, have reported to Open Doors that they are given financial incentives to abduct women who are related to Christian pastors. We have also learned of specific plots to lure Christian women to marry under false pretenses for the purpose of drawing them away from the Christian faith.
Islamic extremists also have an agenda to impose Muslim dominance and Sharia law on culture. This creates conditions that are highly restrictive for women and intolerant of Christians. Christian women, then, live at the crossroads of the two. They face a sort of double discrimination as a result of both their faith and their gender. They are mistreated because they are women and persecuted because they are Christians.
With this year’s World Watch List, Open Doors is calling the world to protect the dignity of all women, but especially the Christian women living in these hostile regions. Christians in these communities are overwhelmed, and—in areas where extremists wield power—police forces and governments can’t be relied upon to protect individual Christian women in these communities.
RS: The bravery of women who've endured abuse and the #metoo movement is engendering true concern and exposure for gender violence and harassment in America. Does this movement in America give you hope for persecuted women worldwide?
DC: The movement that is happening in America, and around the world, to bring equality and justice to women provides perspective as we work against holistic pressures on Christian minority women in extremist cultures. I’ve got to stand for women’s rights, but it’s got to be universal, and not just based on western morals, but on an understanding of human dignity and human rights for everyone everywhere.
As America rallies around women in the workplace and other sectors, we’re raising awareness about Christians, who are the largest religious minority in the world, and advocating for an end to the sexual harassment, rape and forced marriage our data reveals is happening.
RS: While women can be strong advocates for other women, true change is going to take both genders fighting for women's equality and respect. How would you encourage men—particularly men in spiritual leadership—to engage with advocacy for women and against gender violence, harassment and persecution?
DC: Sometimes it seems like the world mocks Christian values, but then a conversation like this emerges and it almost seems like what people really want are men who live out the values of Christ. Who don’t objectify women, but treat them as equals among the children of God. The teachings of Jesus are the only of the major religions of the world that look on women as equals, so Christian men should see the mistreatment of women as being in direct contradiction to Jesus himself.
We should take it personally when women are exploited and assaulted. And we, as men, should work toward a world that refuses to dehumanize women in these ways.
Roxanne Stone is editor in chief of Barna Group, a premier social research company focused on religion and culture. Her forthcoming book explores healthy relationships between men and women and is set to be released in 2019.