Young Christian women in Pakistan facing discrimination, social exclusion and poverty are being taught how to fight for their rights – thanks to an initiative by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
ACN is supporting a women’s advancement programme to empower those from the lowest classes of society who are denied rights, goods and services – and are in danger of abduction followed by forced marriage and conversion and sexual abuse.
The project activities support vulnerable women and girls with counselling and group sessions, as well as basic education for those from deprived areas.
One participant said the programme had helped her to stand strong as they “live in a state of anxiety and constant pressure…
“If we do try to defend our rights, we will be accused of blasphemy or some other charge, based on false accusations, as has already occurred in the past.”
The 20-year-old woman said: “Thanks to my involvement in the women’s advancement programme sponsored by ACN International, I have found myself strengthened in my faith.
“They are helping us to be more aware of our responsibilities and our rights.
“They are encouraging us to stand strong and fight against discrimination and forced conversion, harassment and violence and to defend our equal rights.”
Many of Pakistan’s Christians have menial jobs including factory workers, day labourers, domestic staff, sewer workers and toilet cleaners – so many of the young women taking part in the programme are suburban domestic workers or students from poor families.
One young participant in the programme, whose father is a street cleaner, described the discrimination and abuse she faced from students and staff when she started further education.
The 17-year-old said: “When I went to college I suffered many acts of discrimination on the part of my lecturers and fellow students, to the extent that I couldn’t concentrate on my studies.”
Her family’s income is just 10,000 Rupees (€110) a month.
A friend, in whom she confided, encouraged her to get involved in the ACN-backed programme.
She said: “I listened to the counselling sessions and they gave me new hope to be able to cope with my circumstances.
“I promised myself that I wouldn’t give them another opportunity to destroy my future.
“I’m going to study hard and show people that Our Lord is always with us, that he gives us strength, and guides and protects us.”
According to ACN’s 2021 Religious Freedom in the World report, Pakistan was one of the countries where there are severe violations of religious liberty.
Christians make up around two percent of the country’s population of about 207 million inhabitants.