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recent days of battle in the northwest region of the
As violence continues
between 4,000 Taliban splinter groups and
“Christian, Hindu and Sikh families have been forced to flee because the Taliban imposed on them Jizia, a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule,” said Catholic Archbishop, Lawrence John Saldanha, in a letter released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. “Now minority communities in the province are forced to endure unemployment, intimidation and migration,” continued the Archbishop’s message.
90% of Pakistani Christians
Minority religions and
sectarian groups in
Although 25% of religious
minority women are not considered disadvantaged, Christian minority women who
live on the bottom of society face many untold limitations. A policy of “living
invisibly” with family members is often the only answer for protection for many
minority Christian families who suffer under the great specter of poverty in
The most recent
Marginalization of Christian minority women
Most of the families of
Christian minority women in Punjab came, at the turn of the 20th
century, from families that were originally from
Dalit Christian women who have been severely marginalized often suffer from a shortage of even the simplest basic needs. Lack of health care is common. Slum conditions can also be found where families are forced to live on the streets or to live together in crowded poorly constructed shelters, amid garbage, toxic chemicals and refuse. Their structures often have no electricity, heat or clean water.
Because of these conditions, many dalit Christian women fall into lifetime careers as sewer cleaners, domestic servants or brick kiln workers. Payments for these positions are painfully low, or at times non-existent. Some employers give payment loans ahead to trap minority women, preventing them from ever paying the loans back as they continue to work for free on wheels of never ending debt bondage.
University educated Christian minority women, on the other hand, have quite an opposite experience. Because they are usually supported by family or a husband with money they fare much better among Pakistani society. These women usually have comfortable standards of living, a home their family owns and personal time for leisure activities. They also have much greater freedom with contacts and life opportunities.
The act of clustering poor dalit Christian minority women and families on church owned land or “colonies” has contributed to a much deeper degree of cultural segregation. While isolation and clustering is meant to provide safety, at times it has created more danger for families, as Islamic extremist groups identify Christian community locations to specifically plan their attacks.
A road connecting a Mosque and a Church, ages 9-12 years. Funkor Child Art Center contest, Islamabad 2005
A survey of Christian minority women in society
When a 2006
Both educated and uneducated Christian women admitted that they had been asked numerous times by others if they would convert to Islam. Some also experienced reverse discrimination when they befriended someone Muslim, as some of their Christian friends criticized them. One student said that her marks at school were lowered when her teacher realized she was Christian, but she also added her experience was, “not that difficult.”
Those who come from much greater disadvantaged backgrounds, on the other hand, shared much more serious grievances.
Women from disadvantaged
backgrounds described how legal and police protection systems in
“The general attitude in
challenges for women in
As the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) gathered data on education for women in Pakistan (with the help of 900 civil and rights groups), in 2007, their shadow report revealed, “Pakistan has an extremely low female literacy rate with higher drop-out rates among girls before completing primary education. The social norms and practices prefer boys over girls for better education…”
Statistics show that
education for the poorest ethnic and religious minority women has constantly
been placed at the very bottom of
With such little
opportunity for public education in rural areas, the best chance for poor
Christian minority girls to receive literacy training is for them to attend a
Christian parochial school. Even this is often very difficult as Islamic Madrasas
schools are moving to close all existing programs for minority girls education
“We are at the beginning
of a great storm that is about to sweep the country,” said Ibn Abduh Rehman,
who directs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent
organization. “It’s red alert for
“The mindset wants to
stop music, girls schools and festivals,” said Salman Abid, a social researcher
Attacks in the Muree
region on a Christian school and violence against a chapel in
girl ready for confirmation Lahore,
Current dangers facing Christian minority women and girls
Under-reported cases of
rape against Christian women have occurred. In 2000, the rape of seven
Christian women on a bus to
The intimidation of abduction, rape or violence of women and girls from minority religious families adds greatly to their vulnerability. Any legal recourse with police or courts, in working Pakistani law in their favor, is often very limited.
“In the weeks after the
There have been a number of reported cases of forced marriages of girls from religious minority communities who are under the age of 15. After separation from their family, abductions are framed with the pretext that their conversion to Islam was the reason for their kidnapping. In some cases, there may be a possibility that these are unidentified sex-trafficking kidnappings, but no study to date has been done to confirm this belief yet.
The list of abuse against poor Christian minority women and girls is long.
“Law enforcement personnel abused religious minorities in custody,” said the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report by the US Department of State. “Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against minorities,” continued the report. “Discriminatory legislation and the Government’s failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different religious belief fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities.”
Legislative tightening, Blasphemy Laws and Hadood Ordinances
In a reversal of
restrictions under laws covering accusations by a husband against his wife in
adultery, the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, had the
intention to free 2,500 women from
As legal doors closed again more tightly, Christian women suffering from extreme poverty were left dangling in a forgotten field of legal ambiguity, no protection and “non-personhood.”
Even with the measured
2006 attempt to ease the 1979 Hadood Ordinances, which now allow women to
report domestic violence and rape with one instead of the previously required
three male witnesses, women still do not feel safe stepping forward to press
their case. Blasphemy laws, that sanction anyone criticizing Islam also
inflicts intimidation under the sentence of death by stoning. Stoning as a
For protection, minority women and their families, whether poor or middle class, often try to hide or mask their religious beliefs for safety at work and in public.
Under reported cases of rape and torture of religious minority women and girls presents an ever present human rights crisis. Police corruption, along with abysmal Pakistani prison and jail conditions, creates an atmosphere of intimidation and non-accountability.
“Religious minorities need more than just fair treatment under the law, they also require visible cooperation from the police and authorities, to prevent mob justice taking over,” said Settlement Director, Nasir Saeed of (CLAAS) Center for Legal Aid Assistance, which has an office in Lahore and London.
In Oct 2007, Dr. Ms. Asma Jahangir, the now UN Special Rapporteur for UN Commission on Human Rights said, “The NWFP (North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan) presents a disturbing picture of religious militancy that is increasingly manifesting itself in vigilante actions against the population and creating widespread fear… The government has continuously refused to heed complaints and warnings from both the public and civil society organizations and has adopted a policy of appeasement of militants.”
“The government has chosen to look the other way when the militants have blown up girls’ schools and video shops, threatened teachers, students, doctors, nurses, NGO workers and barbers,” added Jahangir.
From Website Link, Scroll Down to VIDEO.
For more information on this topic go to:
Annual Report – Pakistan, 2009 – International States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Religious Minorities in Pakistan by Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik – Minority Rights Group International, 2002
State of the World’s Minorities 2008 – Pakistan – UNHCR, RefWorld
How wealth/poverty affects the treatment of Christian
women in Pakistan by
Anna-Joy Alves - International Development Department,
Sources for this article include ReliefWeb, UNESCO, USAID, BBC News, UN Girls Education Initiative, Asian Human Rights Commission, Emory University, In These Times, The World Bank, CNS – Catholic News Service, USCIS, WLUML, UNHCR, Sindh Today, PILDAT, Aljazeera News, USCIRF, ActionAid, CLAAS, US Department of State, The Catholic Voice, Minority Rights Group International, The Malaysian Insider, Riz Khan – Aljazeera TV, AFP news
©Women News Network – WNN 2009
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