Women Helping Women (WHW)
In December 2011, UAF received a request from WHW regarding the increased violence committed against Hindu minority women and girls in the province of Sindh in Pakistan, including kidnapping, sexual violence, and religious discrimination. The situation has been compounded by recent flooding and heavy rains, which puts women more at risk to this violence as the government and police are busy with relief efforts. In many cases, Hindu women and girls are kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man, and then denied their civil rights because their marriages are not registered. Women Helping Women is an organization based in Faisalabad that advocates for rural women’s rights, educates the community and government on discriminatory laws against women, and mobilizes rural women to advocate for themselves. In alliance with Harmony Foundation, a national organization active throughout Pakistan, WHW is proposing an awareness-raising campaign including public demonstrations, posters, community workshops, and meeting with elected representatives.
WHW feels that the situation is at a critical juncture both because of the flooding disaster and also due to the upcoming political elections. They believe their campaign can have a greater impact because public officials are eager to secure votes for the elections.
The mission of Women Helping Women is to organize rural women around issues related to their lives, build and strengthen social institutions in support of women, and educate the community about women’s rights.
With UAF funds, WHW conducted a variety of activities in the scope of its awareness-raising campaign, including seminars, workshops, and meetings with elected officials. The unfettered power of landowners, along with a centuries-old caste system, has created a situation where low caste Hindus are not even allowed to sit down on public buses, and low caste men are not hired by business owners in the community so they are forced to seek agricultural work outside their area. While the men of the family are gone working, young Hindu girls are sometimes kidnapped from their homes and are returned after a few days of being sexually abused. In response, WHW organized two public demonstrations mobilizing members of civil society organizations, youth groups, and family members of victims. The group also conducted four seminars for members of civil society organizations and the general community about the existing legal mechanisms for combating violence and discrimination. Representatives of the Human Rights Desk of the district government attended and noted that even when families do come in to report cases of kidnapping and sexual abuse, they often drop the cases because of threats from the landowners. After sharing various cases of systemic abuse and discrimination, the community members identified possible solutions, which include proper implementation of anti-discrimination laws, creating a direct system of reporting cases to public officials, and awareness programs for both religious minorities and religious majorities. WHW brought these concerns and proposed solutions to the offices of three parliamentarians and demanded attention to Hindu minority issues as a way for the parliamentarians to appeal to Hindu voters. Although they first experienced resistance and reluctance from the Hindu community because of fear of reprisal by the landowners, WHW managed to get participants to open up by promising to help them voice their concerns to the government and the media. One woman community leader from Dadu city finally accepted WHW’s invitation to attend a seminar for the first time, after having been invited by WHW many times before.
With its seminars, demonstrations, and workshops, WHW was able to garner the attention of a number of newspapers and media outlets and feels that not only is the Hindu minority community now more aware of their human rights, but also that the larger local population is more aware of the issues of systemic violence and discrimination against minorities.