Sexual Violence Leaves Persecuted Christian Women in ‘Living Death’, Hidden and Isolated

WATERLOO – February 20, 2020 – Globally, the two most-reported persecutions used against Christian women and girls globally are sexual violence and forced marriage. Both were identified by 84% of respondents from the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, according to Open Doors’ annual World Watch List (2020), published in mid-January.

Open Doors International releases its third Gender-Specific Religious Persecution (GSRP) report on February 24, 2020, with events in Toronto and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to follow. This report studies global patterns of persecution experienced by Christian men and women across the 50 countries on the 2020 World Watch List and reinforces that persecution is gender-specific. Even when the situation is difficult for all members of a given Christian community, the situation of women is often worse because of their additional gender-based vulnerabilities.

In the countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian (the top 11 of the World Watch List 2020), women and girls describe this persecution, at its peak, as a kind of ‘living death’ (sexual violence, forced marriage, house arrest). In these instances, sexual violence is used both as a form of control and punishment. This ‘living death’ is experienced acutely by women who are converts from another faith – such as Islam or Buddhism. While these women are physically alive, they are hidden and isolated, separated from their Christian community and Church. This isolation also results in a lack of reporting of their experiences.

In every region of the world, sexual violence continues to be the most prevalent means of exerting power and control over Christian women and girls, as well as to punish them. Often this sexual violence is outside marriage; but sometimes a woman/girl is forced into an unwelcome marriage, at times even with the perpetrator himself. It is used intentionally to dishonour the Christian woman/girl and, consequently, her family and community.

Open Doors’ Global Gender Persecution Specialist, Helene Fisher, says, “This year’s report highlights the lifelong impact of the persecution women and girls suffer because of their faith. When women and girls are sexually assaulted, they endure untold mental and physical abuse while also sometimes trapped in ‘marriages’ against their will. Even if they can escape the terrors of this fate, a devastating stigma and rejection will now follow them for the rest of their life. This shame is meant to leave these women alive but with no future. Sadly, even in Christian communities, rejection is practiced out of shame and a lack of knowledge. No future for them also means they won’t be part of a future family within their religious community.”

While the forced marriage gives an appearance of respectability, it can also become merely a contract for sexual violence from which a woman cannot escape, and within which other forms of violence and pressure are exerted.

The next most common Pressure Points are physical violence and forced divorce. Physical violence is a newcomer to the top three gender-specific Pressure Points for women; instances have been reported in nearly two-thirds of the top 50 WWL countries.

Gender-specific persecution affects men, women, boys and girls alike – no demographic is spared. Across these Christian communities, however, it is women and girls who typically face the hardest circumstances of all.

Open Doors’ World Watch Research 2020 Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report releases on February 24, 2020, in time for International Women’s Day. The report features data gathered for the 50 countries appearing in the World Watch List (WWL) 2020 for the reporting period November 1, 2018, to October 31, 2019. Data was also gathered for 23 additional World Watch countries. In response, Open Doors is recommending that action be taken by international bodies, national governments and persons of influence in spiritual positions as well as the Global Church to address the double vulnerability of women and girls from religious minorities.

Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List will be launched to Parliamentarians on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 11, 2020, with a special emphasis on the Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report.

For key findings from the Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report, click here.
To download the 2020 World Watch List, click here.
Interviews with Helene Fisher, Open Doors International’s Global Gender Persecution Specialist, and Elizabeth Lane Miller, Open Doors International’s Women’s Persecution Specialist, are available.
To download Helene Fisher’s high-resolution headshot, click here.
To download Elizabeth Lane Miller’s high-resolution headshot, click here.

For interviews, contact Mikayla Stroeder, or 519-342-3703 x5.


About Open Doors Canada

Open Doors CanadaOpen Doors Canada is affiliated with Open Doors International, a global ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. ODI raised approximately US $70 million last year to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. For more information visit

About Helene Fisher

Helene FisherHelene Fisher has tracked trends related to women and religious persecution over the past decade and is the Global Gender Persecution Specialist for Open Doors International. Fisher instigated and co-authored the Gender-specific Religious Persecution Analysis reports for World Watch Research, starting in 2018. She has been invited to speak as an expert by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the US Ministerial on International Religious Freedom and various government bodies from the UK, Norway and Denmark.

Fisher has been involved in trauma care training in Central African Republic and is co-developing a theological program in the Middle East to address unwitting church complicity in religious persecution dynamics. She is a co-founder of the Gender and Religious Freedom platform within the Religious Liberty Partnership.

About Elizabeth Lane Miller

Elizabeth Lane MillerElizabeth Lane Miller is the Women’s Persecution Specialist for Open Doors, International. Since 2016, she has been tracking trends and raising awareness related to hidden dynamics of persecution experienced by Christian women, as well as developing Bible-based curriculums for both Free and Persecuted Christian women. In 2018, she also began consulting for Open Doors’ World Watch Research, specifically focusing on the writing of their analytical reports on gender-specific religious persecution. In her ongoing work developing a Restorations curriculum, she combines insights from this research with a biblical framework for understanding the key role of unity between genders as they respond to targeted, gender-specific religious persecution dynamics.

Media Contact: Mikayla Stroeder; or 519-342-3703 x 105