UK parliamentarians hear plight of Christian women

Revelations about the scale of hate crimes against Christian women in Pakistan and Egypt are to be the subject of a meeting in parliament next week.

At the briefing in the House of Commons this coming Tuesday (15 May), MPs and Peers will hear how Christian women in countries marked by religious persecution experience kidnapping, violence, rape, and even have basics like water denied them.

Evidence of widespread discrimination against Christian women is highlighted in a number of new reports.

These include the Life on the Marginsreport by the Pakistani Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, and Aid to the Need (UK)’s new book, Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom, which will be launched at the event in parliament.

According to research, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment or rape because of their lower social status – which is due to both their religion and their gender.

One survey of women from minority religions in Pakistan revealed that 30 percent of those with jobs had experienced sexual harassment.

Other reports revealed how abductions of Coptic women in Egypt have increased, with 800 cases of Christians kidnapped and pressured to convert to Islam since 2009. 

Personal Testimony

The Commons meeting will hear from Thomsena Anjum, originally from Pakistan’s Punjab province, who fled to the UK with her family after being shot at following a blasphemy allegation against her son.

Mrs Anjum, whose husband Stephen worked closely with assassinated Pakistan minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, will say: “I am a witness to the plight of Christian women in rural areas – but also deeply saddened because of the atrocities they faced on a daily basis due to their religion.

“These hate crimes towards Christian women are increasing and do not seem to end. These crimes are unreported and unpunished.”

Mrs Anjum visited hundreds of Christian families in Punjab province as a district councillor and social worker in Faisalabad between 1998 and 2009.

Notable speakers

Chaired by Lord David Alton of Liverpool, the meeting will also hear testimonies from Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, and Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt.

At the House of Commons meeting Aid to the Church in Need’s John Pontifex will outline the findings of research by looks at the discrimination Christian womenthe charity and other organisations.

He will say: “Taken as a whole, this research suggests that Christians in general are often treated at best as second class citizens and Christian women are treated as if they are barely citizens at all.”

Aid to the Church in Need has compiled a briefing document specifically looking at the extent of persecution of Christian women in Egypt and Pakistan and highlighting the findings of key research into the subject.

Among those quoted in the briefing is Peter Jacob from Pakistan, one of the authors of the Life on the Margins report, who highlights the rape of Christian women.

He said “the number of attacks against women in Pakistan is four times higher than the cases that [are] reported” and many crimes “based on sex pass in silence”.

At the Commons meeting Mrs Anjum is set to describe other problems faced by Christian women – including how in many places they have been denied water after local Muslims claimed that wells would become ‘unclean’ if Christians touched them.

She said: “Christian women are the poorest of the poor in Pakistan and they are living with shame and suffering discrimination silently.”

John Newton

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