In the second episode of the CREID Podcast, which gives a voice to those who work in some of the toughest areas of human rights and development, exploring how religion can impact the opportunities of some of the most vulnerable people in the world, Naumana Suleman, Pakistan Lead at Minority Rights Group, explores the issue of the intersectional discrimination of women from religious minorities in Pakistan.
Despite the difficulties of access due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Naumana Suleman, a human rights professional, researcher and trainer specialised in international human rights law, minorities’, women’s and child’s rights, has been working on the invisible problem of violence against poor women from religious minorities in Pakistan. It is when the factors of discrimination collide – religion, gender, but also wealth and social status – that precarity hits the worst, she says, speaking to Emily Buchanan.
Often working as sanitation or domestic workers or in factories, women from religious minorities in Pakistan suffer from a male-dominated and religiously biased society. Limited in their opportunities, women endure a differentiated treatment on a daily basis in comparison with Muslim women in the same position. For example, it is not rare for a Christian domestic worker to be given less days of leave than a Muslim worker in the same household. More exposed to violence and powerless in the face of their employers, many women from religious minorities – mostly Christians and Hindus – are often invited to embrace Islam, with the promise or allure of access to a better life. Those who do, however, are most of the time still considered as inferior, originating from non-Muslim backgrounds. Cases of abducted girls, forcefully converted to Islam and married, are also regularly reported.
Although Pakistani law formally guarantees religious freedom and equality to all Pakistani citizens, the situation on the ground is often different. This is particularly true when religious minorities are involved; overall, conversions to Islam are generally seen as a good thing to the majority Muslim community, making the matter a political issue supported by officials.
Ms Suleman, who originates from the Christian community (religious minority) of Punjab, has been working with CREID partners in Pakistan to address online and offline hate speech against religious minorities, particularly with youth. The team also launched an online survey allowing anyone to report cases of discrimination on any ground.
Listen to our podcast to learn more about CREID’s work in Pakistan to tackle intersectional discrimination and promote freedom of religion or belief.