Zeph, a seventh-grader from a small village in the Gujranwala area, was putting together a dish for her test in the cookery class. When the teacher came to Zeph’s table to inspect her students’ food, she looked at her with obvious contempt and muttered, “Christian girl.”
The first-ever Women Leadership Conference, open only to Christian women, was held in observance of International Women’s Day at the Governor House Punjab on March 6, 2023, to recognise these unsung Pakistani heroes. The Life for Guardians’ Foundation (LGF) and the Pakistan Partnership Initiative (PPI) collaborated on the project.
Minority women are triple-disadvantaged
in Pakistan on account of their gender
, class and religion
In recognition of the minority women’s demonstrated leadership and dedication to women’s rights, Punjab Governor Muhammad Baligh Ur Rehman declared, “Today we have opened the doors of our historical Durbar Hall [Governor’s House, Lahore] for minority women. Numerous actions have been done by the Punjabi government to advance and defend the rights of minority women.
Who Are Minorities?
Not because there are fewer women than males, but rather because they do not enjoy the same privileges, rights, and opportunities as men, makes women a minority population.
The term “minority” is even more difficult to comprehend in a place like Pakistan, especially in reference to women. “An ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority is any group of persons which constitutes less than half of the population in the entire territory of a State and whose members share common characteristics of culture, religion, or language, or a combination of any of these,” according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in 2021.
“Minority” is a characteristic that considers both the existence of discrimination and the knowledge of it.
Religious minorities in Pakistan are classified by the constitution as minorities and non-Muslims. According to Article 260, “minorities” are those who are “non-Muslim,” which includes Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Ahmadis, Bahais, and members of any of the “Scheduled Castes.”
“The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services,” states Article 36 of the Constitution.
The Constitution of Pakistan limits “minorities” to religious minorities alone, excluding linguistic or racial minorities, as noted by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) in the combined 21st to 23rd Periodic Reports of Pakistan.Women of Colour in Pakistan
The Pakistani Constitution specifically outlines a proactive, narrowly defined, and affirmative policy approach for advancing underprivileged communities and preventing discrimination in its different forms.
Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, sex, residency or place of birth is expressly forbidden under articles 20, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27.
The creation of a Ministry of National Harmony, increased minority representation in the Senate, and the reservation of a 5% job quota for religious minorities and a 2% quota in higher education in Punjab are just a few of the concrete actions that various political parties in power have taken to improve the status of minorities and protect their rights.
However, the minority women are victims of both a Muslim-majority nation and a male-majority society. They experience gender and religious prejudice, which is made worse by their dire socioeconomic circumstances. The three most fundamental organising factors in the creation of Pakistan’s cultural ideology about women from religious minorities are the intersectionality of gender, class, and religion.
Given that the national illiteracy rate for Pakistani women is 58 percent, recent polls have found that 87 percent of scheduled caste Hindu women are illiterate, compared to 63.5 percent of men in their group.
Because of their low socioeconomic and political status, there are essentially no minority women in leadership positions. In spite of the fact that Article 106 of the Constitution mandates that each provincial assembly set aside eight seats for non-Muslims and 66 seats for women, there was just one Christian woman among the 371 members of the last Punjab assembly.
Two major issues confront minority women: a lack of statistics on their financial state and the absence of minority women in leadership positions. Recognising that the intersection of gender, class, and religion plays a critical role in fostering religious minority leadership in Pakistan is important in order to overcome these difficulties.
This social hierarchy fosters mentalities that oppress women who are members of minority groups in the sociopolitical and religious realms.
The Next Steps
For the protection and advancement of the status of minority women in Pakistan, the government must take some decisive action.