UK/INTERNATIONAL: Act now to end sexual violence against Christian women

Christian women and girls in Nigeria are at risk of being abducted, forcibly converted and falling victim to sexual violence (© ACN/Jaco Klamer)
Christian women and girls in Nigeria are at risk of being abducted, forcibly converted and falling victim to sexual violence (© ACN/Jaco Klamer)

A leading Catholic charity is today (Tuesday, 26th October) launching a petition calling on the UK government and the United Nations (UN) to take action to tackle the epidemic of sexual violence against Christian women and girls.

The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) petition highlights the threat Christian women and girls, and women of other religious minorities, face of abduction, rape and forced conversion.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director ACN (UK), said: “At Aid to the Church in Need we receive so many disturbing reports about sexual violence against Christian women, often involving forced conversions following abduction and rape.

“In a significant number of countries – particularly Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria – Christian women, and women of other minority faith groups, are extremely vulnerable because of their religious beliefs; predatory men take advantage of their social vulnerability, whilst the authorities or local governors often appear complicit.”

The petition pre-empts the launch on #RedWednesday (24th November) of ACN’s report Hear Her Cries: The kidnapping, forced conversion and sexual victimisation of Christian women and girls, which investigates the global problem of women forced to convert, often under pain of death.

On, 25th November, the day after #RedWednesday, the United Nations marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and there has been criticism that UN statements promoting the day ignore the particular suffering endured by religious minority women and girls.

Urging people to back the #RedWednesday petition, Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “We believe that the international community fails to understand how religious belief acts as a motivator for egregious sexual abuse against women of the ‘wrong’ faith.

“We have launched this petition to call on the UK government and the UN to do much more to stamp this out. All of us must hear the cries of these suffering women.”

Backing the ACN petition, Baroness Cox, who will chair a presentation of ACN’s Hear Her Cries report in the House of Lords, said: “I ask that everyone who has a heart for women and girls who suffer in this way to sign this petition.

“The UK government and the UN need to take more effective steps to stop this problem.

“This should include robust legislation that is actually enforced to the letter of the law, security improvements and cultural changes that make it easier for women and girls to be protected from these abuses.”

Sir Edward Leigh MP said that cases such as Christian Pakistani Maira Shahbaz, abducted aged 14, raped, forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor, illustrated the danger Christian women face.

Sir Edward added: “As Maira’s case shows, Christian women and girls are stripped of their rights as human beings – they are rendered helpless in the face of their captors’ lust.

“It is as if the women’s Christian faith gives their abductors the licence to treat them as slaves. We must speak up for these innocent people who suffer in a disgraceful way.

“We in this country have been outraged by atrocities committed against vulnerable women in the UK – we should have the same level of contempt for acts of violence committed against other women far from our shores, at risk because of their faith.”