09/11/2018, 17.04
PAKISTAN
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Shahbaz Bhatti's family opens a women's education centre in Khushpur

by Kamran Chaudhry

The facility, which was inaugurated on Saturday and will become operational in November, is dedicated to the Catholic minister slain by the Taliban because he opposed the blasphemy legislation. The centre offers sewing and beautician courses as well as a dispensary. The goal is to make women independent and able to fight harassment.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The family of the late Shahbaz Bhatti has decided to open a vocational centre for women. Its aim is to educate Christian girls and women to fight harassment. Mr Bhatti, who was Minorities Minister in the Government of Pakistan, was killed by the Taliban in 2011 because he was Christian and opposed to the country’s blasphemy legislation.

The Saint Anthony of Padua training centre is located in the Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti Complex in Khushpur, near Faisalabad. The village is the largest Christian settlement in the whole country.

The family of the late minister, co-founder of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), comes from the same area. His final resting place is in the village.

The inauguration ceremony took place last Saturday in the presence of over 600 people. Top Church leaders, three priests, several Dominican nuns and Christian politicians were present.

The centre will start operating next November. For now, 40 women have enrolled in its courses. Such training has already begun at a garment factory in Sialkot (about 250 km from Khushpur). Spread over four acres, the facility will offer sewing and beautician courses and has a dispensary.

"Our women are being harassed by [members of] the majority community,” said Fr Anjum Nazir, parish priest of the village church of St Fidelis speaking to AsiaNews. “In particular, those who work as domestic workers are often accused of stealing money, gold or jewelry. The situation of poor Muslim women is not different. The new centre is a great opportunity for the women of the village."

Other Christian NGOs are involved in awareness programmes for Christian domestic workers like that of Shahbaz Bhatti’s family. Their aim is to prevent the repetition of what happened to Asma Yaqoob, a 25-year-old Christian beautician who died in Lahore after being disfigured with acid by a Muslim suitor.

"The facility continues the mission of the murdered minister,” said APMA coordinator Nazir Bhatti. “We have always believed in human rights. The women who receive the training will become in turn mentors as well. We will make sure that they can study in a family-like atmosphere. APMA is paying for accommodations in Sialkot. The dispensary will also offer a midwifery course."

Fr Khalid Rashid Asi, a former vicar general of the diocese of Faisalabad, is grateful to the Bhatti family for what they are doing. "We support their initiative and we will promote it within the diocese. The Bhatti family continues to serve in the village and the local Church despite their tragedy”.

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