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Webinar on sexual violence against women from religious minorities

On the 30th of June, COMECE and Aid to the Church in Need organised a webinar entitled "Targeting vulnerable religious communities through sexual violence and exploitation of women". In the event, the speakers talked about sexual violence against Christian and religious minority women and the prevention of this phenomenon.


In the programme plan of the event, the organisers wrote that Jihadist terrorism had shifted the focus of its operations to sub-Saharan and Indian Africa and to the regions of Asia bordering the equator while continuing its presence in the Middle East. This terrorism usually affects women as a group exposed to sexual violence and exploitation, who, in many cases, belong to vulnerable religious communities. This is not just an exploitation of these women but also an attack on the entire community they belong to.

The organisers highlight in the programme plan that the conference aims to “delve into the reality that women from vulnerable religious communities experience, and the trauma they suffer when they are subjected to such crimes because they are women and also members of a persecuted religious community”.

The webinar was opened with the words of Fr Manuel Barrios Prieto, General Secretary of COMECE. He said that the speakers would talk primarily about the growth of sexual abuse against minority women in Syria, Pakistan and Nigeria. He highlighted that human trafficking and sexual abuse is an issue that we have to address.

José Luis Bazan, the moderator of the event, introduced the speakers and highlighted that women suffer from sexual abuse not just in the three countries mentioned above but around the world.

The first speaker, Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights, spoke about the efforts that the EU has taken, and is still taking, to protect vulnerable women and girls. He shared shocking statistics about human trafficking. For example, 50% of human trafficking is connected with sexual exploitation, and out of every ten kidnapped people, five are adult women while two are minor girls.

He also mentioned that even if new laws are being made against human trafficking and sexual abuse, reality and law are not always in line.

The second speaker, Maria Rumman, from Talitha Khum Network, joined the conference from Damascus, Syria. She was talking about sexual slavery in Syria and Iraq. She also said that it is vital to listen to minorities to be able to help them.

Tabassum Youssaf, a lawyer, and specialist in cases of abduction and sexual enslavement of women and girls, from Karachi, Pakistan, talked about the forced conversion of Christian girls in Pakistan, and about how the courts treat their cases of abduction differently from Muslims. The girls are usually forced to marry the men who abused them sexually, or they have the choice to go to shelter houses, where they are not safe, as they can be found by their abductor or by the abductor’s family.

The last speaker was Father Joseph Bature Fidelis, a clinical Psychologist in Maiduguri, Nigeria. He talked about the trauma of Christian women in Nigeria as victims of sexual exploitation by jihadists, especially by the Boko Haram terror group.

The webinar ended with the concluding words of Marcela Szymanski from ACN, the editor of the International Religious Freedom Report, and with questions from the audience. Marcela Szymanski thanked the speakers and the audience and invited everyone to help with the situation of these women.


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