Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians throughout the world, has released a study evaluating the similarities and differences in how Christian men and women are persecuted. The researchers have found that persecution is gender specific and that, overall, women experience a greater degree and complexity of persecution than men do.
“The experiences of religious persecution faced by Christian men globally is characterized as focused, severe and visible. In contrast, religious persecution endured by Christian women globally is characterized by being complex, violent and hidden.” The researchers go on to say, “We observe that these socio-cultural constructs create vulnerabilities that disproportionately affect Christian women in their expression of faith.”
The researchers evaluated reports and conducted interviews in over 60 countries and found that, in general, “Christian men are especially subject to economic harassment via business, work or job access, while Christian women in particular suffer sexually violent attacks.”
What Are Some Similarities?
Both Christian men and women throughout the world suffer from:
- Economic disempowerment
- Loss of custody of children
- Shaming/shunning (especially in countries that put a high value on honor)
What Are Specific Ways Men Suffer?
The primary “weapon” wielded against men as a result of their Christian faith is economic harassment. Economic harassment can include fines, loss of employment, not being able to find employment, and arrest (which, of course, impacts employment). Because men are typically the ones who provide income for their families, when a man’s ability to find work is threatened, his whole family suffers.
When a man’s community shames or shuns him, he not only has an extremely difficult time finding work but also of networking in the society (where men more commonly have public roles) and of establishing a household. The men’s own families of origin are also likely refuse to provide for their needs. This exclusion from his community can have a significant impact on a man’s identity for the rest of his life.
Another type of persecution specific to men is non-sexual physical violence, the fear and intimidation that comes with it, and death. Sometimes shaming or shunning from a community is something that leads to physical violence. The report observes, “Somalia is particularly representative of global trends regarding the severity with which male converts are treated,” and the researchers also make note of Kenya, a bordering country. When torture is used as a means of persecution, it is almost exclusively used against men, with the exception of the country of North Korea, which also targets women. The frequency of non-sexual violence men suffer is only somewhat greater than that suffered by women, but it does tend to be harsher.
While Christian men and women both experience incarceration, men tend to be imprisoned via the legal processes of their societies and are at a greater risk of violence when imprisoned. The government also leverages military service against men as a way of persecuting them. Men are, in fact, more likely to be persecuted by the government than women are, except for cultures where honor and shame are extremely important, as well as cultures where tight-knit communities have a high level of influence over people’s lives. In those cases, the social and domestic spheres of society affect men more than the government does. When a man is incarcerated, his family suffers from his inability to provide for them, and the church suffers as well.
What Are Specific Ways Women Suffer?
Women are extremely vulnerable to sexual violence, such as rape, as well as to forced marriage. As mentioned earlier, the evidence shows that women are persecuted to a greater degree than men are: “When comparing the overall men’s and women’s lists of pressure points, there is a preponderance of mentions on the women’s side, which is to say one-third more across all countries than on the men’s side.”
Men are more likely than women to experience “severe” non-sexual violence. However, when all categories of violence are considered (sexual, physical, verbal, etc.), women suffer twice as much as men do. There is a connection between sexual violence and honor/shame cultures. If a woman “shames” her family by converting to Christianity, she might be raped (i.e., dishonored) as a form of retaliation. Sometimes rape is used as a direct form of punishment when a woman converts.
Forced marriage is a common weapon used against Christian women throughout the world. Sometimes women are abducted from their Christian families and forced to marry into a family of another religion. Or they are lured into a situation (such as an al-Shabaab camp) by a non-Christian man and kept there by force. Or it could be that the woman’s own non-Christian family gives her in marriage to a family whose religion the family supports. While these are all threats from a woman’s social and domestic spheres (in contrast to the more prominent role the government plays in the lives of men), the government still impacts female suffering—for example, when state laws support underage marriage and polygamy.
When a society shames and shuns a woman for either losing her sexual purity (even if she had no control over that) or converting to Christianity, she becomes financially vulnerable and her ability to survive is at risk. Outcast women are also more vulnerable to sexual assault. Because rape and sexual assault are surrounded by shame (causing people to want to conceal them), it’s extremely difficult to know the extent to which such attacks occur.
While both men and women experience forced divorce and loss of custody of children, women experience those situations more than men do. Again, women are at greater risk after going through a forced divorce because they lack the skills to provide for themselves and would not be allowed to do so even if they had those skills.
The report concludes:
The experience of religious persecution is gender-specific, not gender-blind… The most typical way that men and women experience persecution is directly associated with their socio-culturally-accepted gender identity and roles. In contrast with the diversity of experiences of persecution, the target of persecution is the same—an individual’s Christian family and community.