Naseem Anthony, Executive Secretary of the Association of Women for Awareness & Motivation (AWAM) Pakistan, has called for repeal of all laws perceived as “discriminatory” by Pakistani minorities.
In an exclusive ANS interview, Mr. Anthony described the Law of Evidence in Pakistan as an “obstruction” in the rape victims’ pursuit of justice.
According to the Law of Evidence [Qanoon-e-Shahadat] — which was enforced in 1984 — the evidence of a non-Muslim is not admissible against a Muslim person. Only two male witnesses can testify while four Muslims women witnesses are equal to two male Muslims witnesses.
Anthony also called for the “repeal” of the country’s disputed blasphemy laws.
The spokesman for AWAM Pakistan said their organization was “committed to create women rights activism among the grassroots communities to improve the lot of oppressed women in Pakistan.”
“We are basically working for minority rights, women with disabilities and for house based workers in the district of Faisalabad,” said Mr. Anthony.
He termed “democratic education” for women as an “imperative” for the uplifting of minority women in his country.
“We are educating them that they [women] should vote for a candidate of their own choosing instead of selling their votes,” said the Faisalabad-based Christian rights activist.
Mr. Anthony said that Christian women, particularly Christian teenage girls, were more prone to domestic violence.
“A trend of hiring young Christian girls for a wage of roughly from 3,000 Pakistani rupees (approx. $35.22 USD) to 3,500 Pakistani rupees (approx. $41.00 USD) is fast establishing itself in Pakistan.
“They have to do all house chores and their ‘masters’ often abuse them sexually,” Mr. Anthony told ANS.
Commenting on the shocking case of Shazia Bashir’s case, a teenage Christian girl who was allegedly raped and murdered by a well-known lawyer in the Pakistan city of Lahore in January 2010, he said that the family of the victim has withdrawn the case after reaching a compromise with the accused.
“I understand the poor family received compensation money from the accused in return for withdrawing the case,” he said.
He stated that he “regretted that abuse against domestic women Christian workers was on the rise.”
Mr. Anthony went on to say, “On February 17, 2010, Shazia Salamat, 22 was allegedly brutally stabbed to death by her husband Muhammad Younas in Faisalabad.
The Executive Secretary of AWAM Pakistan said their group has staged many protest rallies and demonstrations to voice the concern of minority women.
“AWAM also staged a protest demonstration when some seven Christians were burned alive in Gojra, a small town in district Toba Tek Singh in Punjab province in August 2009,” he said.
Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a Domestic Violence [Prevention and Protection] bill in August 4, 2009, but it has yet to be passed by Senate, the upper house of parliament, to become a law.
However, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, on January 29, 2010 signed the “Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009” which the Parliament adopted on January 21, 2010.
In reply to a question Mr. Anthony said that Christian women are “discriminated against in all walks of life.”
He added: “The plight of Christian women living in our slums is appalling. There are about 55 Christian slums in Faisalabad city alone.”
He maintained: “Christian women who are qualified are also denied jobs in public and government sector because of their Christian faith.”
Criticizing discrimination against Christians in Pakistan he alleged that there are still many places in Pakistan where Muslim barbers will not even cut the hair of Christians.
“Many Muslims hate Christians like a plague,” he alleged. “They avoid eating with Christians and many of the Christians are treated like outcasts. They cannot even set up restaurants or sell meat. They are condemned to do janitorial jobs in Pakistan.
Citing an example of discrimination against Christian women, he alleged that some 47 Christian nurses who are working in Faisalabad Institute of Cardiology in the Allied Hospital are “not being promoted” because of discrimination.
“There was a time when Muslim women did not think highly of the nursing profession but now there has been a significant shift as more and more Muslims women are joining profession, making the admission of Christians to nursing schools difficult,” he stated.
He went on to say that a Muslim woman possessing a certificate that she has memorized the Quran [the Muslim holy book] can deprive an otherwise prospective Christian student a place in a nursing school because production of such a certificate earns her 20 additional marks.
“We are in favor of open merit,” he stated. “No additional marks should be awarded to a student on this basis of religious qualifications.”
Asked if the recent attacks on mosques of the Ahmadi community, a minority sect in the eastern city of Lahore, had left Pakistani Christians more insecure, he said that all minorities of Pakistan “feel insecure” in the current climate.
“There is no policy and no legislation to safeguard minorities’ rights. We have not got any religious freedom,” he claimed.