'I See You': Striking handmade petition brings message of support to persecuted Christian women

"I See You", the handmade petition by Open Doors on display at Westminster Abbey(Photo: Open Doors UK)

A stunning handmade petition in support of Christian women being persecuted for their faith has gone on display in Westminster Abbey.

The petition is formed of 16,000 squares each emblazoned with the words "I see you" and the creator's signature sewn or handwritten onto the fabric. 

It has been put together by Open Doors to raise awareness of the plight of persecuted women, which it says goes "largely unnoticed". 

"Sixteen thousand signatures for a petition is impressive enough," said Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Henrietta Blyth.

"The fact that each 'signature' was personally hand painted, stuck or embroidered, shows how passionately people feel about the issue of violence against women who are bold enough to stand by their Christian faith.

"This petition is about saying to these women that we do see you, we hear your story, we want justice for you, and we are praying for you."

As part of its ongoing work to support persecuted Christian women, Open Doors is asking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) to recognise faith as a specific vulnerability in tackling gender-based violence.

The organisation, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, believes that in many cases, sexual violence against women and persecution because of their faith are "inextricably linked".

Speaking at the Handmade Petition exhibition, the Rev Anthony Ball, Canon of Westminster, described the petition as "a compelling declaration of solidarity... to those women whose faith makes them an easy target for violence and brutality."

A trauma care worker who provides counselling to women and girls kidnapped, raped or kept as sex slaves by terrorists and militants in northern Nigeria views the handmade petition(Photo: Open Doors UK)

At the launch of the exhibition, Dr Elaine Storkey, author of Scars across humanity: understanding and overcoming violence against women, said that the Church had a responsibility to speak up. 

"In those countries where women are being violated sexually or attacked as a weapon of war, if you look more carefully, you'll find that Christians are being violated even more," she said.

"We have to speak up, we have to identify the nature of violence where faith is actually woven into it."

The launch also heard from an Open Doors partner who works in northern Nigeria to provide trauma counselling to women and girls who have been raped, kidnapped or used as sex slaves by members of the terrorist group Boko Haram or by Fulani militants. 

The worker, who could not be named for security reasons, said that Christian women were being specifically targeted, while others were being left widowed as a result of violence. 

She said that they did not have a voice to speak up for themselves.

"Many of these women go through a lot but they don't have a voice because they are mostly seen as objects and not human beings," she said.

"They are viewed as property to be owned, slaves, or machines to produce children, and whatever happens to them they just don't have a voice to speak up.

"This handmade petition will allow every woman to know that everyone is seeing them. This petition is like a crowd of witnesses."

The Handmade Petition will hang in Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, until 24 November 2019. It is a free exhibition and open to the public and can be accessed via the Cloister Entrance.