Pakistani minority women work under a shadow of fear. By Sheraz Khurram Khan
26 Jan 2006
The degree of unease confronted by women from minoritiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ communities at their places of work in Pakistan is far greater as compared to their male counterparts. In a conservative Pakistani society most of them find it extremely hard to bring their household round on embarking upon a professional career. Those who succeed soon appreciate the odds stacked against them due to following faith other than Islam. Most of minority women are discriminated against during interviews both in government and private sectors. The lucky few pass the interviews because the employers either have no choice of hiring a Muslim employee or the minority women outshine their competitors by a considerable margin.
One wishes if the prejudice and discriminatory attitude against minority women had not stretched further but, sadly, they have to experience the worst of it in their later days at work. Making mockery of their English names is not even deemed as an offence. A handsome number of their Muslim colleagues effortlessly acquire a Ã¢â‚¬ËœlicenseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to mispronounce, distort and disfigure the names of minority women on purpose. The victims who try to protest against it have only to face enhanced discrimination by the incorrigible lot of their Muslim colleagues. This high-handedness stems from the very knowledge of the warped-minded coworkers that minority women come from weaker and marginalized sections of the society. What they gloss over is the fact that minority women also deserve the same measure of respect as their Muslim counterparts.
The suffering of minority women at work places does not stop here rather this is only the agonizing start of their career. I can bet my bottom dollar that most of them would quit their jobs for once and all if they were not faced with compelling socio-economic situation. Their enormous financial worries make them go on pocketing insult. They feel highly insecure while going to their places of work and vice-versa. At work sex-starved males make devilish attempts to seduce them. Ironically, this harassing goes uninterrupted under the very nose of those who are supposed to ensure semblance of discipline in the organization. To their book perhaps this is no offence so by not taking any action against the offenders they also become a party to this condemnable act. WonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it be good if the evil is nipped in the bud? Emboldened, the troublemakers devise more ghastly strategies aimed at satiating their unbridled lust.
The miseries of minority women at work places are compounded by yet another category of staffers, who have the one-point agenda of converting their non-Muslim colleagues to Islam. The representatives of this category of people can be found in every institution/organization be it a private or government sector. Motivated by their irrational quest to slap Islam on minority women this group of colleagues does its best to ensure bringing minority women into the folds of Islam. For starters, they start posing questions to their prospective victims about Christianity and evince fake interest in seeking more about their religion. Most of non-Muslims in Pakistan (either gender) avoid debate on religion for they know they may have to pay heftily for the Ã¢â‚¬ËœsinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ they never committed. The probing questions on faith, however, see no end and since it is humanly impossible for one to keep ones lips sealed in the face of unceasing deluge of questions, so the persons in question give answers to the best of their knowledge. Given the mindsets of such category of co-workers it is not hard for one to understand that these answers would not satisfy them. After nodding their dissatisfaction, the said elements start imposing their faith on their non-Muslim colleagues. The mulish elements keep on irking their colleagues and virtually snatch their peace of mind. I wonder if they are so keen on serving Islam why donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t they quit their jobs and start evangelizing Islam? To my humble opinion it would be a better choice. But taking up issues that have to do with ones faith is an abhorrent practice that must end the sooner the better. If common sense prevails with the so-called champions of Islam they would better remain restricted to doing their bit of work in the organization rather than becoming pain in the neck of their non-Muslim colleagues.
Couple of years ago, seven Christian girls were raped after they were forced to alight from the vehicle which was carrying them to their homes from their place of work. What highlights discrimination against minority women in this shameful incident is the fact that none of the Muslim girl boarding on the same vehicle was dishonoured. The trend of abduction of Christian girls and forced marriages is also on the rise in Pakistan. After kidnapping the victims are forced to convert to Islam. The perpetrators invoke Hudood ordinance according to which Christian marriage stands annulled. If things stay same integration of minority women into the mainstream would only remain a distant dream. Well-intentioned efforts aimed at allaying sense of deprivation, feeling of insecurity and ensuring fundamental rights to minority women should be made for only this would bring them at par with their Muslim counterparts.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan