Women from the minority community experience triple jeopardy in the  Pakistani society as they face discrimination on the basis of gender and religion, which is further multiplied by the overall poor socio-economic situation.

The issue was extensively discussed at an open session on the situation of minority women in Pakistan at the eighth meeting of the National Advisory Forum (NAF), an alliance formed under Gender Equity Program (GEP) of Aurat Foundation with the support of the United States Agency International Development- USAID. The meeting was themed around “Rights of Minority Women in Pakistan”.

NAF is currently the only national forum where all provincial ministers of women’s development sit together along with the representatives of civil society and the federal government to discuss and formulate policies on gender issues in Pakistan. The chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women Khawar Mumtaz, currently chairs the forum that meets twice a year. In her presentation on Christian women in Pakistan, Punjab’s ombudsperson Mira Phailbus said that minorities were around 5 per cent of Pakistan’s total population. She said, “In lieu of Islamiyat, minorities are allowed to study Ethics, whereas their demand to study their own religion has never received attention.”

She said that majority of Christian women in the labour force as domestic maids faced social ostracism, name calling (Churi) and stigma attached. “Most of the time, they are employed on painfully low salaries.”

Mira shared that Human Rights Monitor by National Commission on Justice and Peace recorded 762 non-Muslim conversions to Islam between 1999 and 2004. “Very few cases reach the court rooms, where social pressure and fear on the allegedly converted women fail to dispense justice,” she said.  Chairperson Provincial Commission on the Status of Women, Punjab, Fozia Viqar said that revamping different institutions are not the answer to resolving the minority issues. “In fact we should look at implementation challenges.”  She also suggested focusing research on discrimination embedded in the curriculum. “We need to focus on consequences, not causes.” In her concluding remarks, President Board of Directors Aurat Foundation Masuma Hassan urged to engage more with the government institutions. “I believe that NAF is not only an advisory forum but is also a learning forum where all stakeholders meet and share update on the situation of women rights in the country,” she said while appreciating the work of GEP.