Thank you to all of you who contacted your MP since International Women’s Day on 8 March to invite them to a parliamentary debate on gender-specific religious persecution. This took place yesterday (17 March) and involved positive discussions around this crucial issue.
The plight of our persecuted sisters was the subject of a parliamentary debate
We are immensely grateful for the way thousands of you lobby your MP on behalf of our persecuted family. Whatever the campaign, and whatever the need, your willingness to speak out is making a powerful difference for those unable to speak out for themselves.
More recently, this has centred around Open Doors’ See. Change. campaign, which seeks to highlight and honour the value and purpose of persecuted Christian women and girls.
Earlier this year, you had the opportunity to invite your MP to a panel event on Intentional Women’s Day on 8 March which discussed the suffering facing our sisters because of their faith and gender. A total of 22 MPs attended this event, which Open Doors co-hosted with Aid to the Church in Need (you can watch the full recording here).
"I am sorry to say that the compounding elements of religion and gender are too often ignored" Jim Shannon MP
Following this, many of you got in touch with your MP again, this time to request they do three things: read the new Open Doors report ‘The Persecution of Christian Women and Girls’; sign a parliamentary petition which has a particular focus on Nigerian women; and attend a parliamentary debate on gender-specific religious persecution. (Gender-specific religious persecution, or GSRP, is where religious vulnerability is compounded by existing gender vulnerabilities.)
The debate, which happened yesterday (17 March), was opened by Jim Shannon MP (DUP), who said that the hidden, violent and complex persecution faced by millions of Christian women and girls, as noted in the Open Doors report, ‘is often overlooked by the relevant authorities’.
Shannon went on to detail cases of gender-specific religious persecution in countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, including Afghanistan, which is number one on the list. He drew attention to forced marriage, which is often used to target a victim’s family and wider community.
The MP followed this with a call for more investigations into forced marriage as well as trafficking, and urged the UK Government to take gender-specific religious persecution into account in foreign policy and discussions on trade and aid.
“More needs to be done,” he said. “Victims of gender-specific religious persecution are so often overlooked, and I am sorry to say that the compounding elements of religion and gender are too often ignored.”
Fiona Bruce MP – the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief – also spoke. She expressed gratitude for research undertaken by Open Doors and Aid to the Church in Need, adding that vulnerability due to faith and gender can be compounded by poverty.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the factors that result in religious persecution against women are many and complex, and we all, including those of us who work on freedom of religion or belief much of the time, need to better understand those factors,” she said.
Bruce admitted that not enough had yet been done on the Bishop of Truro’s fifth recommendation that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) undertake research on how freedom of religion violations relate to gender equality and use this to change policy. She added that the FCDO also needed to be bolder in calling out bad practices, arguing that generic or private remarks are not good enough given the suffering involved.
There was also a recommendation for targeted programming and aid for women and girls who are at risk because of their faith and gender, adding that persecuted women and girls should be involved in the design, assessment and implementation of such programmes.
There were other contributions, too. Dr Lisa Cameron MP (SNP) noted multiple cases involving Christian women and girls, and recommended that members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief meet with officials in the FCDO to work out how best they can support the FCDO in prioritising this human right.
“If MPs from all parties do not raise our voices, then women from religious minorities will continue to be the forgotten women in the fight against gender-related violence,” she said.
Sarah Owen MP (Labour) asked for updates from the government on what it is done to support persecuted women from religious minorities in Nigeria and Afghanistan, and asked them to ensure that Afghan Christians have access to support when fleeing the country (a recommendation from the World Watch List 2022 report).
Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly, responding on behalf of the government, noted the work being done to provide resettlement for people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria. Recognising the need to address gender-specific religious persecution, he added that the UK Government ‘must continue to call out countries that fail to take action, while working at grassroots level to effect change’.
Jim Shannon MP closed the discussion by reading from 1 Peter 2:16 to highlight how the government can positively use its freedom to effect change: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
Every £25 could mean a persecuted woman receives visits from Open Doors partners, to help encourage and strengthen her in her faith
Every £30 could provide ten women with discipleship through social media
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.