03/08/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Almost 20 women raped, killed, or fall to suicide every day

by Qaiser Felix
On International Women's Day, experts highlight the difficult situation of women in Pakistan. Those who suffer sexual violence are arrested, and abuse in the workplace is frequent.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - In 2007, serious violence against women in Pakistan increased: according to the report of the Madadgar Research and Database Centre, there were 7,870 cases of sexual violence with homicide, suicide, and the application of the "hudood ordinances" (according to which the woman who is the victim of sexual violence can be accused of "extramarital sex" and arrested), as compared to 7,564 in 2006. Firdous Chaudhry, coordinator of the Pakistan Catholic Women's Organisation (PCWO), says that this is one reason why they have scheduled for today, International Women's Day, in addition to exhibits and celebrations, also a debate on the discrimination suffered by Pakistani women.  Under accusation are above all the public authorities, who do not do enough.

"Christian women", he explains, "face threefold discrimination: they belong to a religious minority, they live in an underdeveloped society, and they are women".  For this reason, the PCWO works to make women more aware of their rights and to provide legal and social assistance to the victims of violence.

"The women most at risk", explains Jasmine Joseph, secretary of Caritas in Faisalabad, "are housemaids and others who work".  In addition to receiving low pay, they are often subject to sexual abuse, which they must often tolerate in order not to lose their job, while they lack any effective legal protection.

Shazia Naz, a Christian lawyer, is also a critic, confirming that "women are still discriminated against at work, and are killed in the name of so-called honour".  She says that the amendments to the hudood laws have only been "cosmetic", and even the 2006 law for the protection of women has brought no actual improvements.  In the legal tribunals, the testimony of a woman is still considered only half as valuable as that of a man.

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