ASIA/PAKISTAN - The Bishops: women of religious minorities "doubly discriminated"

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - The women belonging to minority religious communities are "doubly discriminated and marginalized". They are widely abused and harassed, often forced to conversions, and their education level is much lower than the rate of female literacy, at a national level: this is according to a Report presented today on the occasion of "Women's Day", by the "Justice and Peace Commission" of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Pakistan and sent to Fides. The Report, titled "Life on the edge", is based on interviews to more than 1,000 Hindu and Christian women, carried out in 8 districts in Punjab and 18 districts in Sindh, where 95% of religious minorities in Pakistan live. As reported to Fides by Peter Jacob, Executive Secretary of the Commission, "legal disparities, prejudices, forced conversions and the lack of political attention have emerged", requiring "urgent need to go over laws that touch the sphere of religion and gender equality ". According to the Report, 43% of women belonging to minorities have suffered religious discrimination at work, in educational and social institutions. 76% of them also suffered sexual harassment at work, which is often a menial job and low income, such as domestic work in homes of rich merchants. Among the other significant figures contained in the Report, the literacy rate among women belonging to minority groups is 47%, well below the national average of 57%: this figure has a clear impact on their social and economic conditions of life, that relegate them on the fringes of society. A worrying phenomenon is that of forced conversions (there are about 1,000 cases officially reported every year) is the reflection of a cultural bias, whereby women's autonomy is limited or denied which significantly affect their independence, self-esteem , freedom of choice. The condition of subordination, poverty and marginalization of women is also reflected on Christian and Hindu children. The Report notes, in fact, a higher rate of infant mortality among minorities, compared to the national average of 314 infant deaths out of 3,050 births per year, with a mortality rate of 10.3%, compared to the national mortality rate that is 8,7%. Moreover, "most of the minority children are forced to attend Islamic studies due to lack of suitable alternatives", notes the text, touching an issue, that of education, which remains crucial to improving the lives of religious minorities. The Commission, on 8 March, "Women's Day", claims the support of the whole civil society and asks the government to intervene with legislative measures to establish gender equality, equal opportunities and rights for minorities, to gap a social, economic and cultural division caused by religious discrimination. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 06/03/2012)