74 pc Pak minority women sexual harassed:report

Lahore: Almost three-quarters of women from Pakistan`s minority communities have faced sexual harassment while 43 per cent complained of religious discrimination at workplaces, educational institutions and neighbourhoods, according to a new report. The report, prepared by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, states that about 74 per cent of the women faced sexual harassment.

"Some 27 per cent minority women (Christians and Hindus) faced discrimination in admissions to educational institutions and were forced to take Islamic studies in the absence of any alternative subject," NCJP executive director Peter Jacob said. The report came following a survey in 26 districts of Punjab and Sindh, the two provinces where 95 per cent of the minorities live.

Jacob said the study looked into the social, political and economic conditions of the minority women with the help of a baseline survey. "As many as 1,000 Hindu and Christian women were interviewed. The two communities form 92 per cent of the entire minority population in Pakistan," he said. The study reviewed literature available on minority women.

Issues such as legal disparity, review of personal laws for minorities, religious and gender biases, forced conversions, lack of policy focus and segregated data were part of this study that focussed on everyday life of the minority women, Jacob said. The survey revealed that only 47 per cent of minority women were educated, lower than the national average of 57 per cent, and far behind urban literacy among women, which was above 65 per cent.

The data showed a higher infant mortality rate among minorities than the national ratio. Jacob said the living and economic conditions of the women, assessed through income, savings, health and education, also placed them 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, 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 said the lack of official data on minorities hampered civil society and government in assessing development and making interventions to improve conditions and bring minority women to the mainstream. The study, while noting discrimination related to the Constitution, Hudood Ordinance, blasphemy laws, personal laws and education policy and curriculum, and analysing the consequences of these discriminations, recommended practical policy corrections and institutional ways to improve the integration of minority women and safeguarding their rights.