Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Asia Bibi symbolises a generation of Pakistani women who, behind bars, in the home or in everyday life, are victims of abuse, violence and discrimination. It is incumbent on everyone to remember this woman on this day. A Christian mother, she is on death row for blasphemy, waiting for her appeal. Her fate goes beyond the normal obligations associated with International Women’s Day. It provides in fact an opportunity to give a voice to all those women who, from predominantly Muslim nations to the West, are victims of gender discrimination. To keep hope alive for Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Church and Indian Christians have launched an appeal for her release, and the repeal of discriminatory legislation like the infamous ‘black law’.
Contacted by AsiaNews, Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, said that Asia Bibi (pictured) is in a “very sad” situation. Her predicament does not “represents only an individual case of discrimination, but has become a symbol,” he said, “for all those behind bars, or in apparent freedom” who are victims “of human rights violations”.
On International Women’s Day, he hopes that “people will remember these women,” who are silently enduring “discrimination because of their sex or professed faith”. For Peter Jacob, 8 March is one of those dates “that everyone should remember for all these sad events, which are symptomatic of the bitter reality that characterises Pakistan today.”
Asia Bibi, 45, mother of five, is in the women’s wing of Sheikhupura prison (Punjab). She is under constant death threats by Muslim fundamentalists. As she waits for her appeal trial, it “is very important for the international community not to forget,” the NCJP director said, whilst “promoting good relations with Pakistani civil society.” We must work together to “bring about positive changes in the country”.
Indian Christians have also joined the Pakistani Church in demanding Asia Bibi’s release and the repeal of the blasphemy law. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has called for an “international resolution” against the ‘black law’, which Pakistan “refuses to abolish”.
For the Christian organisation, International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to propose and strengthen human and political rights as well as gender equality, whilst supporting “women’s struggles around the world”.
Pakistan, which is located in South Asia, has a population o 180 million people, with an annual growth rate of 2.2 per cent, and a natural increase of 2.3/100. Life expectancy is 66.5 per men, and 67.2 per women. At this pace and in the not so distant future, Pakistan should become the most populous Muslim nation, surpassing Indonesia.
About 75 per cent of Pakistanis are Sunni Muslim, whilst 20 per cent are Shia. Christians are under 2 per cent.
The literacy rate is 46.3 per cent, 61 per cent for men and 35 per cent for women. Many young people attend madrassas, fundamentalist Qur‘anic schools, which have become recruiting centres for suicide bombers. Still, female education has experienced some improvement in recent years as families realise the value of educated daughters. In 2008, public spending on education stood at 2.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Unemployment stands at 6.6 per cent of the population; however, 32 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. (DS)