By Sheraz Khan, South Asia Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
WITNEY, UNITED KINGDOM (ANS – February 4, 2018) — As UK women celebrate 100 years of being given the right to vote in British elections, millions of women around the world are being denied the right to choose which religion they follow, and face sexual violence, abduction and forced marriage because of their religion, says the anti-persecution charity, Open Doors.
Open Doors UK (www.opendoorsuk.org) said in a press release, that it estimates that in Pakistan, some 700 Christian girls and women are abducted each year, often raped and then forced to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam.
It stated: “If their families try to complain, they are accused of harassing the girl and her new family because of her ‘voluntary’ conversion.”
The release went on to say that in one case in 2015, Fouzia Sadiq, a 26-year-old Pakistani Christian wife and mother of three, was kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam by Muhammad Nazir, a 55-year-old father of eight and owner of the farm where Fouzia worked as a farmhand.
It added: “She escaped a few months later, but eventually had to be returned to Nazir, as her own family were being accused of kidnapping her.”
In Nigeria, the release said that rape is used “as a weapon” by members of the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram.
It quoted Nigeria’s Political Violence Research Network (NPVRN) as saying that “some Boko Haram attackers believe Christian women are responsible for making their children hold Islam in disdain. If women are the key transmitters of values and beliefs, then the kidnappings, forced marriages and forced conversions of women and girls make strategic sense.”
Open Doors UK went on to say that NPVRN claimed that Boko Haram sexually abuse Christian women as a twisted use of “jizya,” a reference to a tax that early Islamic rulers demanded from their non-Muslim subjects for their own protection.
“One girl NPVRN interviewed, who was repeatedly raped by Boko Haram, was told by some of her captors that this was based on ‘sex as jizya,’” said the release.
It also stated that Esther*, a Nigerian teenager, became pregnant when she was abducted and raped by Boko Haram militants, adding when she [Esther*] was released from Boko Haram captivity, she was ostracised by her community because of her sexual abuse.
The release quoted Esther* as saying: “They mocked me because I was pregnant. Even my grandparents despised me and called me names. I cried many tears. I felt so lonely. What broke my heart even more was that they refused to call my daughter ‘Rebecca.’ They referred to her as ‘Boko.’”
Esther* has received trauma care and practical support from Open Doors, said the release.
In Colombia, Open Doors UK said that sexual violence is used against women from guerrilla groups who become Christians and decide to leave their lives of violence. Luz Marina Mosquera*, it said, is a former guerrilla fighter who made the decision to leave after converting to Christianity. She was sexually abused by her comrades when they found out about her decision.
The release maintained that forced marriage is also a problem in for Christian girls in Colombia, especially among indigenous communities. When Soraya Moringa*, the release said, decided to leave the traditional beliefs of her indigenous group and become a Christian, she was forced to flee from her community because she had been promised in marriage to a traditional man and opponent of Christianity. Soraya managed to escape, and now lives in a safe house supported by Open Doors, said the release.
The release quoted Open Doors Trauma Support Coordinator María Herrera* as saying: “Sexual abuse doesn’t only have sexual implications; it is a violent means of nullifying the will of a person. It is a way of crushing the individual and robbing them of their identity.”
The release also quoted Beth Fuller, a spokesperson for Open Doors UK & Ireland, as saying: “Women and girls are on the frontline of persecution. In many parts of the world, they already face discrimination because of their gender, and being a Christian as well creates a double-vulnerability.
“I am so thankful for the rights that women are free to enjoy here in the West, but we must do more to support the rights of women globally.”
Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians since 1955, and currently works in over 60 countries.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List — a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors’ research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2018 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2017.
Pakistan is number 5 on the 2018 World Watch List. In cooperation with local churches and other partnering ministries, Open Doors supports the church in Pakistan through emergency aid to victims of violent persecution, literacy programmes, vocational training, and counselling and trauma therapy, amongst other projects.
Nigeria is number 14 on the 2018 World Watch List. Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen and equip persecuted believers in northern Nigeria through emergency relief, trauma counselling, training, education, community development projects and legal assistance, amongst other projects.
Colombia is number 49 on the 2018 World Watch List. Open Doors strengthens the persecuted church in Colombia through emergency relief aid, children’s homes and education, amongst other projects.
Note: *names changed for security reasons.
Photo captions. 1) Transatlantic celebration about the fact that British women have finally got the vote. 2) Esther* with her child. (© Open Doors International). 3) Boko Haram militants are said to use rape as a weapon against Christian women. 4) Open Doors 2018 World Watch List report ranked Pakistan as number 5 on the list of nations where Christians face the most severe persecution. (Reuters). 5) Sheraz Khan.
About the writer: Sheraz Khan, South Asia Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, is a Pakistani-British journalist. He lives in Scotland and can be contacted by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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