Photo: On Oct 13, 2016 a total of 21 of the more than 200 girls who remained in Boko Haram custody were freed.
(This story includes accounts of sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting.)
The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege, who have both campaigned against rape in warfare. Nadia Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people, while Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who has treated thousands of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A local partner of Open Doors in Iraq says, “Nadia’s bravery in sharing her experience at the hands of IS is exemplary. She has shone a light on the horrendous reality of thousands of Yazidi, and hundreds of Christian, women and girls abducted by IS. Nadia’s story highlights the intersectional vulnerabilities facing women from minority faiths in conflict situations who are doubly vulnerably to sexual violence for being from both the ‘wrong’ faith and the ‘wrong’ gender.”
The horror of sexual violence being used as a weapon of religious persecution is something that our persecuted sisters around the world are facing on a regular basis – but their abuse often goes unseen and unchallenged.
In Pakistan, 700 Christian girls and women are abducted each year, often raped and then forced to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam. If their families try to complain, they are accused of harassing the girl and her new family because of her ‘voluntary’ conversion.
In Colombia, sexual violence is used against women from militant guerrilla groups who become Christians, and therefore decide to leave these violent groups; rape is their punishment from their former comrades.
In Nigeria, rape is used as a weapon by members of the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. According to Nigeria’s Political Violence Research Network (NPVRN), 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.
NPVRN also claims 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’.
TRAUMA CARE RESTORES IDENTITY FOR WOMEN IN NIGERIA
According to Open Doors Trauma Support Coordinator María Herrera*, “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.”
Your support and prayers are enabling Open Doors workers and partners to provide vital trauma care for our sisters who have experienced sexual violence because of their decision to follow Jesus. This counselling helps to restore their sense of identity, and reminds them of their value as children of God.
Open Doors recently held a week-long trauma care programme for 30 women in Nigeria who had faced sexual violence at the hands of Boko Haram militants.
Ijanada was one of them. The story she shared was heart-breaking. At the start of the programme she shared, “I feel worthless. I don’t think I will ever be accepted by my family and my friends. Four years ago, I was still in school and at the top of my class. I even got an award for the neatest girl in class. Everyone wanted to be my friend. I was loved by my teachers and fellow students. I wanted to become a lawyer.
“All my dreams were shattered when the Boko Haram came to my village four years ago and abducted me. If there were a place worse than hell, this would have been it. Four years in the hands of these devils felt like an eternity to me.
“From the neatest girls in school I became the dirtiest. For four years, I wore the same clothes every day. I cannot count the number of times I was raped – every time they come back from their attacks, they would take turns to rape us. Any resistance was met with severe beatings.
“I have a son who is two years old now and am six months pregnant with a second. Who will take care of my son, my unborn child and me? When I was released in March 2018, some of my friends came to see me. When they saw my child and noticed that I was pregnant, they started crying. I couldn’t help but cry too, because I remembered how we used to learn together.”
But as the programme went on, Ijanda shared, “At first, when I was invited to this trauma healing program, I didn’t want to talk about my experiences. But when I realised that speaking about my pain will give me relief, I shared my story. It was magical! I felt relieved.”
Another of the women, Hauwa, was also held captive for four years, and had a two-year-old boy. She was close to nine months pregnant during the trauma care program. She was brutally honest, saying, “I hate this boy. I was raped by evil people and he carries their blood. Every time I look at him, he reminds me of my four years with Boko Haram. Very soon, I will give birth to another child who will also remind me of my pain.”
But God was able to work in her heart during the trauma programme. Towards the end of the week she said, “I realise that my son did not choose to come to me through Boko Haram. It’s not his fault I was violated. During our time together, I began to feel sorry about hating this innocent child. I promise I will love and take care of him with the help of God.”
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP WOMEN WHO ARE FACING SEXUAL VIOLENCE BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITH?
You can pray. Pray for protection for our sisters around the world who are vulnerable to these kind of attacks. Pray for healing and restoration for those who have suffered sexual violence. And pray that God will work through Open Doors teams and others to provide the care and support they need.
You can give a gift. Your gift enables us to support persecuted Christians practically.
17 year old Esther* has been kidnapped and rapped by Boko Haram extremists. Even though Esther has now come to terms with what had happened to her, the stigma of her past may stay with her and her daughter Rebecca for a long time.
Encourage Esther with a short letter as she continues her journey as Rebecca’s mother and Christ’s ambassador to her neighbours. WRITING GUIDELINES
Please send your letter by 15 December 2018 to:
Open Doors Hong Kong
P.O. Box 78516, Mongkok Post Office, Kowloon, Hong Kong
*Name changed for security reasons