Women of the Persecuted Church

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By Nicole Todd | 21 February 2019

Aisha From Nigeria

Women Aisha
Image: Aisha from Nigeria.

Two years ago, Aisha*, a 28-year-old wife and mother of three from Nigeria, was caught up in a violent attack by Fulani herdsmen. The majority Muslim group had attacked her northern Nigerian community of Kano. They then forced their way into her home. A Bible in her room gave away that Aisha’s husband was a pastor. Immediately, they grabbed him and took him away. Then the men beat and sexually assaulted Aisha. 

Maizah From Libya

Libya womensblog
Image: Daily life in Libya.

Maizah* from Libya decided to leave Islam and convert to Christianity. As a former Muslim and a young woman, Maizah’s new faith made her a target for violent persecution. Maizah was beaten by a group of men. One of them tried to persuade her to become his fourth wife. The pressure to accept his offer, and to renounce her faith, left Maizah no choice but to flee. If her family found out about her new faith they could kill her. 

Rita From Iraq

Iraq womenblog4
Image: A street in Qaraqosh as the rebuilding of the town begins.

Rita* is a Christian woman from the town of Qaraqosh in Iraq. She was 26-years-old when the Islamic State invaded her town and took her captive. She was sold and bought four times as a sex slave before she was freed in 2017. She was reunited with her father in April 2018, almost four years after she was taken captive.

Esther From Nigeria

Women Esther
Image: Esther, now 20 years old.

Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, attacked Esther’s* village in Nigeria when she was 17-years-old. They abducted her and took her deep into the forest, doing everything they could to make her renounce their faith. But Esther wouldn’t give in. In captivity, she gave birth to a daughter, Rebecca. Esther was rescued a year later and returned to her community. She wasn’t prepared for the second phase of persecution she would endure, this time from her own community.

“They called my baby ‘Boko,’” Esther said.

People, even her own grandparents, were not so eager to welcome back the “Boko Haram woman.”

These stories represent the reality of the persecution that Christian women and girls experience. Research for the 2019 World Watch List shows that persecution around the world is based on gender as well as faith. For Christian women and girls, that means double the vulnerability.

The Vulnerability Of Women

Image: Nari* escaped from North Korea and was sold into marriage in China.

Christian men and women experience persecution in very different ways. In fact, there is no overlap in the most common ways that men and women face pressure to abandon their faith.

For men, persecution is most likely to relate to pressure at work, military conscription, and non-sexual violence. Women are more likely to experience persecution in the form of forced marriage or sexual violence. While the methods differ, the ultimate goal of persecution is always to destroy the Christian community. 

This can happen in various ways. Persecution directed at women is often carried out in a way that leads to shame, isolation, discrimination, and grief. By disconnecting women from their communities, they become more vulnerable. Just like Esther, whose own grandparents did not want to welcome her back after being held captive by Boko Haram. The shame of her experience led to isolation and discrimination.

Divided And Isolated

Bangladesh blog
Image: A Bangladeshi woman reading her bible.

Attackers rely on this community response, knowing that isolating Christians has a significant impact on their ability to stand strong in their faith.

A Christian woman who is forced to marry a non-Christian man, as Maizah almost had to, will not be surrounded by Christian family. She will often have to move in with her new husband’s family. This effectively cuts her off from anyone who would encourage her faith, and means she is almost constantly monitored.

Persecution against women is often silent, hidden, and complex. It lurks under the surface, hiding in plain sight, and has devastating effects. Yet Christian women all over the world, like Aisha, Maizah, Rita, and Esther, are sharing their stories of the suffering they endure for their faith in Jesus. Though persecution often seeks to divide, their voices powerfully connect the global body of Christ.

To find out what persecution looks like for Christian men and women in countries all over the world, visit the 2019 World Watch List.

You can also buy a World Watch List Guidebook.

*Names changed for security purposes.

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