While many in the media rightly champion the #MeToo movement, they’re sadly overlooking the monstrosities committed against women abroad for simply practicing their faith. One Catholic aid organization is hoping to change that attitude.
On June 6, the Italian edition of Vanity Fair featured an ad that expanded the #MeToo movement to include female victims of religious persecution. Serving as an open letter, it implored four vocal proponents of #MeToo – actresses Asia Argento, Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone, and Uma Thurman – to stand with women sexually assaulted because of their faith.
Those women included: 28-year-old Rebecca, a Nigerian Christian kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram, 21-year-old Dalal, a Yazidi from Iraq who suffered under ISIS militants, and 40-year-old Sr. Meena from India, who was attacked by Hindu extremists.
To draw attention to their stories and the stories of other victims, the three held signs in the ad reading, “#MeToo,” “#NotJustYou,” and “#StopIndifference.” But they had more words than that to share.
Boko Haram “raped me, they kept me as a prisoner for two years, they killed one of my sons and they sold me as a slave,” said Rebecca, according to an ad translation by Catholic News Agency (CNA).
Four years ago, Dalal revealed she was “kidnapped and sold as a sexual slave to nine different men in nine months” as a teenager by ISIS, which “still has my mother and my sister as prisoners,” she said.
And Sr. Meena remembered being raped by Hindu extremists who also “forced me to walk naked for five kilometers while the crowd continued to hit me.”
Those three represented tens of thousands of others, according to the ad from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a papal foundation that serves suffering Christians worldwide. ACN Italy director Alessandro Monteduro stressed that their stories called for attention.
“It’s good, it’s wonderful to create the awareness for actresses and women in the Western world who are in any way victims of violence,” he told CNA of #MeToo, but “all over the world there are women who are suffering the same, but maybe more aggressive violence in the name of faith.”
By addressing the four actresses, whose faces are “known by everyone,” the letter was designed to highlight the “faces of these women [who]are invisible.” The ad also asked celebrities to rebuke the “intolerable hypocrisy of those who are outraged only by what happens in the yard of their own home,” while also being “stingy in their thoughts, words and help for those who suffer far away due to the silence of so many.”
It’s a silence that includes the media. Besides Catholic and Christian media, as well as a single opinion piece in Forbes, English-language online media barely touched the report.
In Forbes, human rights advocate and author Ewelina U. Ochab referenced the letter and condemned the crimes “both targeted at gender and religion.”
“The atrocities perpetrated against these three brave women are the tip of the iceberg,” she wrote. “Women and girls, around the world, deserve better.”
She’s right: The world has a long way to go. Earlier this year, the non-profit Open Doors USA estimated 215 million Christians “experience high levels of persecution” in 50 countries for their beliefs. That translates to one in 12 Christians worldwide.
And women, according to Open Doors USA Advocacy Director Kristin Wright, “suffer doubly” in some countries.
“If you look at the ways in which women suffer, it is unique to women,” she said in a 2017 interview. “They suffer because of the way that their gender is seen in that culture and then they suffer in addition if they become a Christian or if they change their faith to a minority religion.”
The media that claim to champion “women’s rights” or “women’s reproductive rights” too often say nothing. But even when they have addressed these crises, their words missed the mark.
In August 2016, a Media Research Center report revealed that evening news programming reported on Christian persecution in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia only 60 times in the previous two-and-half years. Of those 60 reports, only six used the word “genocide.” Networks have since continued that trend.
The media should call out the horrors abroad against Christians for what they are. And, when it comes to #MeToo, they should include #ThemToo.