Imagine living every day, every moment of your life in fear. That is the reality of thousands of women around the world. They have reason to fear because they are Christians living in places where the worship of Jesus is forbidden and because they are females in countries where women are not afforded even the most basic human rights. In far too many places, Christian women are targets of violent persecution.
Tuesday is International Women’s Day, a day when we celebrate women, past and present, for their remarkable contributions to society. But it should also be a day when we celebrate the courage of women who stand up for their faith even under threat of torture and death.
Just last week, 16 people were shot to death, including four nuns, in a retirement home in Yemin run by a charity established by Mother Teresa.
Last year, Batima,* a Kyrgyzstani Christian was beaten by her siblings after converting to Christianity. Violence against Christians in Pakistan is also increasing. In January, a Christian teenaged girl was killed and her two-friends injured when they were attacked by a group of Muslim extremists.
In Bangladesh, the growing Christian minority population is facing increased restrictions and persecution. One reported incident was of 20-year-old Christian woman who was gang-raped in the Bangladeshi city of Dhaka. And we must not forget the 219 Christian school girls from Chibok, Nigeria, who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants nearly two years ago.
Many more Christian women are “indirect” victims of persecution, having been widowed by brutal attacks on their husbands from groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram.
In January, I met with Gladys from Nigeria and she told me of how her husband was captured, tortured and burned alive while out sharing his faith in Christ along with a pastor friend. Gladys told of how she viewed her husband’s charred corpse without realizing that she was looking at her own husband’s remains. And she related how she was speaking out about how God is sustaining her in the aftermath of this horrible murder. Her faith humbles me.
These are just a few examples of how Christian women have been targeted and persecuted for their faith. For each story told, there are hundreds of others left untold.
Because Islamic terror groups are the leading driver of the global persecution of Christians, as their reach increases, so too does the threat to Christians in general and Christian women in particular. The Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep Ed Royce, R-Calif., drew attention to the plight of women living under ISIS rule in a hearing he convened last summer. In opening the hearing, Royce noted:
“Violence against women is in fact a sinister and calculated strategy that goes to the heart of ISIS’s survival. By forcing local women to marry into ISIS, the group expands its demographic base while reducing the population of those diverse communities it seeks to eradicate and replace. Simply put, ISIS needs women – needs to control them – to establish its “caliphate” and give rise to the next generation of ISIS.”
And so I return to International Women’s Day. As we contemplate the significance of this occasion, I would put one question to us all: How best can we honor persecuted women on International Women’s Day? I recommend we take a multi-pronged approach.
First, we must continue to advocate on behalf of the persecuted with America’s leaders and international bodies like the United Nations.
Second, we need to support efforts to provide practical aid, spiritual encouragement and safe haven to those who have been persecuted or remain under threat of persecution.
And finally, all people of faith must continue to pray for the persecuted. As I have the privilege of meeting brave women who remain committed to their Christian faith in the face of persecution, over and over again I hear one thing: “Encourage Christians in the West to pray that we will remain strong and faithful no matter what may come.” Their faith inspires me to keep fighting for them every day.
On this day dedicated to honoring women, won’t you join me in praying for all those enduring or living under threat of persecution for their faith?
*Editor’s note: Name changed for security reasons
Emily Fuentes is the communications director at Open Doors USA, a leading advocate for persecuted Christians around the world.