LAHORE: The minority women are facing severe problems in the Pakistani society and need a policy response, according to a study conducted in 2010-11 by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).
The statistics were made public in a press conference by NCJP on Wednesday. MPA Najmi Saleem, IA Rehman, Justice (r) Nasira Javed Iqbal, Hina Jilani, Bushra Khaliq, Wajahat Masood, Emmanuel Yousaf and Peter Jacob were the guest speakers on the occasion.
The speakers said the study looked into social, political and economic conditions of the minority women in today’s Pakistan with the help of a baseline survey conducted in 26 districts of Punjab and Sindh – the two provinces where 95 percent of minorities are residing.
Around 1,000 Hindu and Christian women were interviewed – the two communities forming 92 percent of the entire minority population of Pakistan. The research was led by Jennifer Jag Jivan and Peter Jacob.
They said that besides informing the readers on the minority population, policy framework and space available for minority women with reference to human rights standards, the study reviewed the literature available on the minority women.
Issues such as legal disparity, review of personal laws concerning minorities, religious and gender biases, forced conversions, lack of policy focus and segregated data were part of this study, they added.
They said the results of the study pointed to stark realities being faced by minority women as 43 percent of the minority women complained of facing religious discrimination at workplace, educational institution and neighbourhoods. Whereas 27 percent of them faced problems in getting admission to educational institutions.
Most of the minority children are forced to take Islamic Studies due to lack of an appropriate alternative.
Only 47 percent of minority women interviewed were educated, lower than the national average (57% national literacy rate) and far behind the urban literacy among women, which was above 65 percent among women (70% of the respondents belonged to urban areas). They said the data showed a higher infant mortality rate among minorities than national ratio; 314 infant deaths among 3,050 births (10.3%), which was quite high to the national mortality rate that is 8.7 percent according to World Bank reports.
A majority of the deceased offspring died either at birth or within 30 days of birth –
33.12 percent at birth and 36.62 percent within 30 days, making it a total of almost 70 percent.
Around 76 percent of the working women faced sexual harassment. Living (housing, civic facilities) and economic conditions assessed through income, saving, health, education, also placed minority women on the margins of social and economic development.
Though 55 percent of minority women saw the social environment as conducive to multi-religious living around, 62 percent of the respondents thought that in the wake of a religious disturbance like those in Shantinagar, Gojra, Korian, Sialkot, the majority community would not stand with them.
While the minority women faced a threat in the form of forced conversion and assimilation into the larger culture, their families tend to control their autonomy, thus the important decisions about their lives and well-being are controlled by the male, making it a case of several jeopardises.
Besides stressing a thorough review of laws and policies to root out religious and gender-based discrimination, the study noted the lack of official data on minorities that could actually help the civil society and government assess development and make interventions to improve the conditions of minority women.
The study included interviews and objective assessment of the situation by three prominent minority women – MNA Asyia Nasir, Ernestine C Pinto, a Karachi-based senior lawyer and Pushpa Kumari, a social activist.
Noting the discrimination and analysing the consequences of these discrimination, the study also included practical policy correctives and institutional ways of improving integrating minority women in the mainstream and safeguarding their rights in the conclusions and recommendations part.