The notion of a women’s rights movement that overlooks the right to religious freedom is a futile one. Too bad that’s exactly what’s happening within the international female equality movement.
UN Women, the United Nations’ agency focused on gender equality, spent $315 million during their 2015-2016 fiscal year on resources to empower women and girls around the globe. Did you catch that? Three hundred and fifteen million dollars.
Strange then, that in a world of murder, rape, and displacement of religious minorities from places like Syria and Iraq, the international women’s rights movement failed to provide any substantial resources to promote women’s religious freedom.
You’ve probably seen the gruesome images of the Islamic State, also called ISIS, committing atrocious genocide of Christians and Yazidis—an ethnic group of Kurdish people whose religion combines elements of Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism—including beheadings, child crucifixions, and enslavement.
It’s women who are ISIS rape victims. It’s women who ISIS enslaves into sex trafficking. It’s women alongside men and their children who ISIS threatens with death if they don’t deny their faith and convert to Islam.
So shame on leaders within the women’s rights movement who remain silent as ISIS invaded communities like Sinjar in Northern Iraq, killing 3,000 men and older women, and taking thousands of Christian and Yazidi women and girls into slavery, and then publicly raped Christian women before beheading them alongside six men because they refused to deny their faith in Jesus Christ.
As monstrous attacks on women like these played out in the Middle East over the past year, what endeavours preoccupy UN Women’s attention? Look no further than the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, an event they sponsored on humanitarian crises facing women and girls. You might expect the agenda to include the vicious violence and discrimination against women of faith. But no. According to UN Women’s Annual Report, the event focused on increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services, including women in leadership roles, and eradicating gender-based violence. Sadly, nothing in the report mentioned gender-based violence fostered by religious beliefs.
The only word I can think of is “hypocrisy.”
A woman’s freedom to practice her faith without fear of abuse or death remains far more precious than, dare I say, birth control or abortion access (aka, reproductive services). Even so, the very leaders who say they want to empower women consistently overlook religious freedom as a human right.
Here’s what women’s empowerment really looks like: an Assyrian Christian mother’s right to read the Bible to her children without worrying that ISIS might crucify her little ones if they refuse to deny Jesus. A Yazidi woman’s right to walk down the market streets of Baghdad with her daughters without fear of being dragged into sex slavery. An Iraqi Christian woman gathering with her friends and family to worship God in church without fear of ISIS militants beheading her entire congregation.
Peace negotiations mean nothing if women’s religious freedom is ignored, no matter how many women are placed on the commission. Female leadership is meaningless when those leaders cannot even practice their personal faith without fear of repercussions.
Many activists emphasise their desire to “liberate” women. We know only the ultimate Liberator’s goodness and mercy offers true equality to women in a fallen world. But until He returns, Christians cannot close a blind eye to the injustices against women of faith, no matter how far away they may live from our neighbourhoods.
UK Christian women cannot mimic the women’s rights movement and ignore the plight of our sisters in Christ being persecuted for their faith abroad. To help, we can lend our voices on behalf of women like Ding Cuimei, the wife of Chinese Christian pastor who was callously buried alive at the Beitou Church in Henan Province by a demolition crew sent by the Chinese government to demolish her husband’s church.
Remember to pray and advocate on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani wife and mother, as she sits in prison after seven years because of false blasphemy charges. After Bibi drank from a water glass used by her Muslim co-workers, she was told she must deny her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Bibi reportedly responded, “I will not convert. I believe in my religion and Jesus Christ. And why should I be the one to convert and not you?”
UN Women’s goal is to achieve the “general equality is a feasible accomplishment within the next 15 years” and to place “women at the centre of global transformation.” A well-intentioned goal that’s never going to happen at the UN Women’s current rate of operation.
Religious freedom is the basis of a free, stable and prosperous society. May we never fail to defend the freedoms of the marginalised and persecuted religious women and girls around the world.
Originally written November 2016. Chelsen Vicari serves as the Institution on Religion and Democracy’s Evangelical Program Director. She is the author of ‘Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith’. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and History from Radford University and a Master’s degree in International Politics from Regent University’s Robertson School of Government.