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Press release

Women and girls: victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief

Published on 22 September 2020

Below is the text for the media release published today by the UK APPG on Freedom of Religion or Belief:

Dr Mariz Tadros, Director of the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) and Professor of Politics and Development at the Institute of Development Studies has recently published a paper Invisible Targets of Hatred: Socioeconomically Excluded Women from Religious Minority Backgrounds.

This paper is particularly timely as CREID continues to highlight the campaign for justice for Saneha – the 16-year-old Christian girl abducted exactly a month ago by a man nearly twice her age in Pakistan. Read more on Saneha’s story here; and view an interview with Saneha’s parents (available in Urdu and English).

Ideologically motivated sexual grooming targets women from religious minorities

The paper highlights the need to recognise how ideologically motivated sexual grooming targets women from religious minorities.

Dr Tadros argues that there is an urgent need to:

  • Recognise officially ideologically motivated sexual grooming as a form of sexual predatory behaviour that targets many women who belong to religious minorities
  • Create an accountable police force that secures the return of girls who have disappeared without delay
  • Ensure that families and the girl who has disappeared are afforded a safe and neutral place to meet, while ensuring full protection from any harassment or mortal fear

The evidence suggests that, across contexts and religions, there is a pattern of girls and women being targeted for sexual grooming, not only out of sexual predation, but a wider political project to hurt the religious minority and create a religiously homogenous society.

Targeting of girls and women who belong to religious minorities needs to be distinguished from the sexual grooming that women and girls fall globally victim to in its intent; social norms allow for its perpetration and laws fail to prevent its occurrence.

Ideologically motivated intent: the targeting by the predator who is from the dominant religion of the young woman, not only on account of her social and economic vulnerability, but specifically because of her affiliation to a religious minority. The intent here is not only sexual predation (as is common among all forms of sexual grooming) but also the ‘conquest’ of a woman from a religious minority and ‘claiming’ her for the majority religion.

Socio-political support for the sexual predator: the role played by the legal system and society in preventing women who belong to religious minorities from escaping or being rescued from their groomers. Kidnappers are rarely arrested and justice rarely served where the subjects are from poor, socially and religiously marginalised families.

Women suffer dual stigma

The outcomes of politically orchestrated sexual grooming are more violations of rights and the entrenchment of a vicious circle of powerlessness. There is an  also an impact on the subject herself: the psychological abuse that victims of ideologically motivated sexual grooming endure often ‘breaks’ them into accepting their predicament. They often suffer dual stigma: in their marriages, they will be often be treated with contempt for not having been born into the dominant religion and if they ever have a chance to escape and go back to their families, they may be shunned or stigmatised forever.

There is an impact on freedom of mobility for women who belong to the religious minority: in response to the real or rumoured disappearance of women, many parents respond by denying women the freedom to leave the house, to attend school or to participate in leisure and/or public activities in the community. The restrictions imposed by families who fear for their girls represents a denial of the right to education, the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of expression.

Notes for editors

The Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) provides research evidence and delivers practical programmes which aim to redress poverty, hardship and exclusion resulting from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. CREID is an international consortium led by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and funded by UK aid from the UK Government. Key partners include Al-Khoei Foundation, Minority Rights Group (MRG) and Refcemi.

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