Research Worldwide | 06 March 2023
Do Christian women suffer more for their faith?


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International Women’s Day, held every March 8, is a great chance to honor and appreciate everything that women give to our societies and our world. It’s a chance to point out continuing inequities, celebrate cultural icons and familial heroes alike, and to work together to help improve things for women and girls around the world.

For followers of Christ, it can also be a chance to take a hard look at the unique religious persecution some women face—and then to do something about it! 

A Christian woman can become trapped in a web of oppression. Her gender, her faith, and the cultural and legal norms of her region are all factors that intertwine with one another—and these factors can all trap Christian women, leaving no hope of escape. It’s not that they suffer more persecution than Christian men; it’s that the persecution can look completely different. 

Women all over the world can face different pressures that together are complex and complicated, and all have their own stories to tell. But it’s important to hear these stories. Stories like Sahar (pictured left), a convert from Islam who is from Iran.

Sahar may only be one woman among many; but her story is echoed in the lives of many others all over the world, where women risk everything because they are daughters of the living God. 

Double pressure for following Jesus

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On the outside, Sahar seemed to have it all: a loving husband, two beautiful children and financial stability. But when she chose to walk away from Islam and turn to Jesus, Sahar knew how much she could lose. She knew she could lose her home, her husband, and her children—not to mention her stability and very dignity. 

And as a woman, these losses are reinforced by her lack of rights as a woman in Iran. Sahar had no legal right to freedom of religion and as a married woman, she would be subject to incredible pressure that her husband could use to try to get her to renounce her newfound faith. Iranian law would not provide sanctuary for the risks she faced domestically—and there are no laws against domestic violence in Iran.

“There was a realistic possibility of divorce,” she explains, “and surely my children would have been taken away because of me being an ex-Muslim. They would not let me even see them, because all my rights would have been taken away as a convert.” 

It would be easy for her husband to divorce her—forcing his wife to return to her parents’ home under a vast burden of shame. And in Sahar’s home country, this was no small risk. The threat of being thrown out of the house has more life-threatening implications for women than men. While for men it is acceptable to live with a roommate, for women it’s considered strange and even immoral to live away from parents or a husband.

Sahar felt undervalued and fearful—not just as a Christian in Iran, but as a woman. “I only realized where that came from later,” she explains. “I had the luck to grow up in a family that valued boys and girls equally, but everything in society, every law, and every interaction pointed in a different direction. In Islamic-Iranian society, women and girls are seen as less smart, less valuable, and not capable of making decisions.”

A unique threat

This is the kind of threat that Christian women around the world—particularly those in Muslim-majority countries—face every day. Women and girls face attempts to control their marital status by families, communities and governments. 

When Sahar’s husband discovered her new religion, her fears became a heartbreaking reality. Her husband was furious and threw her out of their home. Sahar found herself crying in a taxi, fleeing her family and her secure life: “My pride was broken, I felt that everything was taken away from me. I didn’t do anything wrong; I wasn’t a criminal. I believed in Christ ….”

Sahar was blessed that when her husband kicked her out, she was shielded by parents that valued her and were willing to be a safe haven for her. Others are not so lucky. Controlling the movement of female Christians is a particular risk for those who have converted from Islam. Families use house arrest as a punishment, often found alongside cases of physical domestic violence. It is also used to prevent women from meeting other Christians and bringing shame upon the family.

Eventually, Sahar’s husband invited her back home, and they slowly rebuilt their relationship despite tensions related to her new faith.

But her persecution experience wasn’t at an end: Sahar was arrested and put into prison for her church activities. 

Because of the threat of long imprisonment, Sahar and her family left the country soon after she was released. They now live in Turkey, where Sahar continues to walk with Jesus and work with female converts from Islam. Many of them are in even more difficult situations then she once was.

A massive problem—with many factors

Sahar is only one woman among millions who suffer from the web of persecution—targeted both for her faith in Jesus and for her sex. The pressures are intense and intersect in such a way to make a walk with Christ incredibly difficult. 

Globally, Christian women and girls often find themselves caught in a particularly complex web of compounding vulnerabilities. They are not only vulnerable as Christians in World Watch List countries, but their additional gender-specific vulnerabilities overlap and interact to a greater extent than for Christian men and boys in the same contexts. Religious persecution exploits the existence of these many interlinking and compounding forces, aggravating the damage to individual women and girls, their families and their communities.

That’s why Open Doors has conducted gender-specific religious persecution research for the last six years. This year’s research findings confirm that whether for men or women, boys or girls, religious persecution is rarely experienced as a single, isolated pressure point. Although persecution is more focused for men and more complex for women, both sexes are likely to experience the complicated nature of targeted persecution.

And that’s why this International Women’s Day, we need to lift up our sisters in Christ who risk so much to follow Jesus. A good way to do that is to download the new report, “Web of Forces,” and use it to drive your prayer life. You can share the report on social media and encourage others to pray as well.

please pray

Here are five specific ways to get you started in prayer on this International Women’s Day:
  • Pray for women like Sahar, who risk so much when they choose to follow Jesus. Ask God to be near to them when they are rejected by their families and societies, and to remind them they are not alone.
  • Pray for women who experience sexual violence because of their faith. Ask God to bind up their wounds and bring His healing presence into their deepest pain. 
  • Though it’s International Women’s Day this week, it’s also important to note that when women are targeted, it deeply impacts the entire family unit. Pray for husbands, brothers and male relatives who mourn the brutality committed against the women they love. Pray also for men and boys who are targeted for violence and the loss of their families through abduction. 
  • Pray that God will move within unjust laws and customs, and give both women and men the right to choose who they worship. 


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