16,000 squares of fabric highlighting women persecuted for their faith and gender ready to hang at Chapter House, Westminster Abbey 17-24 November

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Eighteen volunteers have finished sewing together thousands of handmade squares of fabric for Open Doors’ Handmade Petition installation that will be displayed in Chapter House, Westminster Abbey. The installation will highlight the double vulnerability of women who are persecuted for both their faith and their gender.

The art installation entitled The Handmade Petition: I See You has been created by more than 16,000 Open Doors supporters, as well as more than 250 women from across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America who have been persecuted for both their faith and gender.

The petition is made up of nearly 16,000 handmade squares of fabric. Each square has the words ‘I see you’ and the signature of its creator sewn or written onto it, as a unified recognition of doubly vulnerable persecuted women whose plight is, according to Open Doors’ research, largely unseen and unnoticed.

The 18 volunteers spent more than 465 hours in total sewing the squares into a series of two-metre banners which will hang in the Chapter House, Westminster Abbey. The installation will then give people a visual opportunity to see these women’s stories and understand the characteristics of gender-specific persecution.

One volunteer sewer, Rachael Loescher, who has been an Open Doors supporter for several decades, said: “What interests me in this project most is the end result. This is an amazing opportunity to raise awareness about our sisters around the world and all that they suffer and to support them and their families in a small way. I would be truly grateful for any help and recognition that the installation might bring to them at this point.”

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Rachael Loescher sewing together the petition

Another volunteer, Pam Bottomley, who is a trained nurse and has worked with the vulnerable and abused for many years, said her own work made her want to help vulnerable women and that this installation was a good opportunity to do that: “I am hoping that it will raise awareness about not just the plight of the persecuted church but sexual violence against women in particular.

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Pam Bottomley sewing together the petition

“The petition is such a massive visual way of showing our sisterhood across the world and I hope it will have enormous significance for all those who see it.”

Open Doors aims to encourage 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. In many countries, the persecution of faith and sexual violence against women are inextricably linked.

In addition, the installation will display portraits of Nigerian women who have experienced persecution for both their faith and gender. The portraits are by Hannah Rose Thomas, a British artist who, facilitated by Open Doors, visited northern Nigeria to run art therapy sessions with Nigerian women who have been victims of sexual violence by Boko Haram or Fulani militants. Each portrait will be accompanied by the woman’s story which highlights the double vulnerability created by faith and gender.

A piece of the Handmade Petition

The installation supports Open Doors’ women’s campaign, which aims to restore the hope, dignity and identity of women who are doubly at risk of persecution because of their Christian faith. Open Doors encourages the new government to continue supporting these aims through its commitment to Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The Handmade Petition will hang in Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, from 17 November to 24 November 2019. It is a free exhibition and open to the public and can be accessed via the Cloister Entrance.

 

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