Photo:: ACN Italy
Photo: ACN Italy

An ad in the Italian edition of Vanity Fair has called for the global #MeToo campaign to include women who suffer violence because of their religion.

The Vanity Fair ad includes an open letter to some of the actresses who spoke out as part of the #MeToo initiative, like Asia Argento, Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone and Uma Thurman, calling on them to express solidarity with thousands of women who are “persecuted and outraged without receiving any solidarity or visibility on social media.”

The ad, published in the magazine’s 6 June issue and placed by the Catholic advocacy charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), features three women who experienced extensive abuse because of their faith.

One of them, Rebecca Bitrus, a Christian woman from Nigeria, is holding a #MeToo hashtag while she tells her story: “They raped me, they kept me as a prisoner for two years, they killed one of my sons and they sold me as a slave.”

Bitrus was with her husband and two sons in August 2014 when Boko Haram militants abducted her and her children, while her husband managed to escape.

She and her sons were taken to a forest encampment, where she was forced to convert to Islam. When she refused, one of the militants told her he was going to “teach her a lesson” and so he snatched Rebecca’s youngest son, three-year-old Jonathan, and drowned him in a nearby river while Rebecca was watching.

The other two women pictured in the ad are 21-year-old Yazidi woman Dalal, who was sold as a sex slave by ISIS, and Indian nun Sr. Meena, who was raped by Hindu extremists and forced to walk naked for five kilometres.

The women hold signs saying #NotJustYou and #StopIndifference.

Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN Italy, told the US-based Catholic News Agency that the #MeToo campaign was important as it created “the awareness for actresses and women in the Western world who are in any way victims of violence” but, he said, at the same time “all over the world there are women who are suffering the same, but maybe more aggressive violence in the name of faith”.

In March, World Watch Monitor highlighted a report that showed how Christian women are at double risk of persecution – because of gender as well as religion.

In contexts where women are already disadvantaged, Gender Profiles of Persecution found that Christian women are specifically and most frequently targeted by three coercion tactics: forced marriage, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.