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‘74pc minority women faced sexual harassment’

LAHORE: As many as 74 per cent of minority women living in Pakistan faced sexual harassment during 2010 and 2011, respectively, while 43 per cent complained about facing religious discrimination at workplaces, educational institutions and neighborhoods.

“Moreover, 27 per cent minority women (Christian and Hindu) faced discrimination in admissions to educational institutions and were forced to take Islamic studies for absence of any alternative subject,” National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) Executive Director Peter Jacob disclosed this while launching a study titled ‘Life on the Margins’ conducted by the commission with rights activists, media and people from various walks of life at a local hotel on Wednesday.

The research, which was based on interviews of minority women, was led by Jennifer Jag Jivan and Mr Jacob while it was assessed by three prominent minority women, MNA Asiya Nasir, Ernestine C. Pinto and Pushpa Kumari, with the coordination of Sobia John.

Giving a briefing, Mr Jacob said the study looked into social, political and economic conditions of the minority women with the help of a baseline survey conducted in 26 districts of Punjab and Sindh, the two provinces where 95 per cent of minorities in the country lived.

“As many as 1,000 Hindu and Christian women were interviewed – the two communities forming 92 per cent of the entire minority population in Pakistan,” he added.

He said the study reviewed the literature available on 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 that affected everyday life of the minority women, he said.

The NCJP chief said during the study it revealed that only 47 per cent of the minority women were found educated, lower than the national average (57 per cent national literacy rate) and far behind the urban literacy among women, which was above 65 per cent as 70 per cent of the respondents belonged to urban areas.

He said the data showed a higher infant mortality rate among minorities than national ratio.

He said the living (housing, civic facilities) and economic conditions of women, assessed through income, saving, health, education also placed minority women on the margins of social and economic development. Though 55 per cent of the minority women saw the social environment as conducive to multi-religious living, around 62 per cent of respondents were of the view that in the wake of a religious disturbance like those in Shantinagar (Khanewal), Gojra, Korian and Sialkot etc, a majority of people would not stand with them. He said besides stressing a thorough review of laws and policies to root out religious and gender discrimination, the study noted that a lack of official data on minorities could actually help civil society and government assess development and make interventions to improve the conditions and bringing minority women to mainstream.

He said the study while noting the discrimination relating to the Constitution of Pakistan, Hudood Ordinance, blasphemy laws, personal laws and education policy and curriculum and analyzing the consequences of these discriminations, recommended practical policy corrections and institutional ways of improving integrating of minority women and safeguarding their rights.

HRCP Secretary-General I.A. Rehman urged the Pakistan government, provincial governments, social and rights activists and intellectuals to take up these serious issues.

“As the Constitution protects rights of all citizens including minorities on the basis of equality, we should address these issues to protect rights of minorities in Pakistan,” he said.

He said the provincial government, after the 18 Amendment, should focus on minority issues on a priority basis in order to protect their rights by all means.

He appreciated the report and congratulated the NCJP team for revealing the problems the minority women were facing.

Justice Nasira Javaid Iqbal (retired), Hina Jilani, Bushra Khaliq, Wajahat Masood and Emmanuel Yousaf also spoke on the occasion.