Islamabad - Women from Pakistan's minority communities have a lower level of education but a higher level of infant mortality. They suffer discrimination in the workplace and are the victims of constant attempts at forced conversion or false charges of blasphemy, this according to a recent report titled 'Life on the margins' on the status of minority women released by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church. About a thousand Christian and Hindu women took part in the survey. They are from 8 districts in the Punjab and 18 in Sindh Province, which together represent 95 per cent of the country's religious minorities. More than 90 per cent of Pakistanis are Muslim, predominantly Sunni.
One factor in discrimination is forced conversion. One non-Muslim woman in two experiences pressures to convert to Islam, which often come with violence and coercion. Looming in the background is the blasphemy law, seen by many as the most serious obstacle to social and cultural equality.
Another factor is higher than average infant mortality among minorities with 314 infant deaths out of 3,050 live births for a rate of 10.30 per cent compared to the national average of 8.7 per cent.
Discrimination also affects education. The report found that only 47 per cent of the minority women interviewed have a formal education, which is far lower than the national average of 57 per cent and far behind the urban literacy rate of women of 65 per cent.
The workplace is another area of discrimination. Some 43 per cent of Hindu and Christian women said that they faced discrimination, stress and psychological pressure where they worked.
On International Women's Day, which is celebrated today, 8 March, NCJP activists lament the fact that, in the third millennium, discrimination based on race and religion remains a shameful blot on Pakistan.
One figure stands out. According to the report, 62 per cent of respondents believe that, in the wake of religious disturbances like those in Shatinagar, Gojra, Korian and Sialkot, the majority community would not stand with them.
NCJP executive director Peter Jacob said that a copy of the report would be sent to the provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab as well as the Ministry of Human Rights and Interfaith Harmony
It will also be posted on the NCJP's own website at www.ncjppk.org