Christian Marriage Law, church of pakistan, Church of Scotland, CLAAS, Community World Service, diocese of lahore, education, Equality, gender, Justice, Legal, Mark 5:41, National Lobbying Delegation, sialkot, Talitha Kumi, Violence Against Women, Women's Rights
I’m in an office with a line of people before me. Each one of these people has a story of suffering and perseverance. Directly opposite me sits a beautiful young woman and her mother. The young woman looks at the floor, holding back tears. As her mother speaks, the tears flow. She is a survivor, and has a story of abduction, rape, and injustice. The perpetrator is free.
Though the tears flow, this young woman is seeking healing. She will pursue an education, and will not give up. She speaks about the violence she has experienced as an act of defiance.
Thanks to CLAAS (The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement), a Church of Scotland partner organisation, this young woman has lawyers representing her, and a strong support network. Her mother has stood by her, despite a culture where rape is sometimes interpreted as an act of ‘spoiling’ a woman’s purity.
This office is in Lahore, Pakistan, where I travelled with the Church of Scotland Violence Against Women (VAW) task group. We were there to learn about the response of the Church of Pakistan, and other partner organisations to VAW.
After many conversations and meetings with a whole range of women and girls it became clear that VAW is a global phenomenon. It comes in different forms, but it has an impact on rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, Asian or European.
The violence experienced by women in Pakistan can range from honour killing, to domestic violence, or societal violence (where women are prevented from pursuing opportunities such as gaining an education). There are very few laws in place to protect women, and existing laws often fail to have any legal impact.
The human impact is devastating. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Things are slowly changing.
We met women who were pursuing further education, who are determined to bring about change. We met Rev Nosheen Khan, the first woman principal of the Gujranwala Theological Seminary, and Dr Farhana Nazir who is a faculty member at the Seminary. We met professional women who were lobbying for the legal rights of women and minorities through Community World Service’s National Lobbying Delegation. These women are powerful leaders, and are bringing about societal change.
We also met women whose mission it was to bring an end to violence against women in Pakistan.
Valerie Allen, convener of the Church of Scotland VAW Task Group, was able to speak about violence against women during a church service at the Praying Hands Cathedral in Lahore. Following the service a women came striding towards her and gave her a big hug. This woman, Shunila Ruth, had experienced violence herself. She had taken this experience, and had set up her own organisation called ‘Talitha Kumi Welfare Society’- Young Woman, Rise Up, named after Jesus’ words in Mark 5:41.
Her organisation provides legal support for women who have experienced violence, alongside work and activities designed to provide young women with empowerment.
Shunila Ruth has a powerful presence. Her knowledge about the subject is deep, as is her understanding of Women’s Rights. Importantly, she knows what it’s like to experience violence. She can relate to women who come to her, and knows how to provide emotional and spiritual support.
Slowly, within organisations such as Talitha Kumi, and community initiatives, women are coming together and rising up to change a culture and a legal system which is harmful to women in Pakistan
As Shunila Ruth said: “My pain became my passion, and my passion became my mission”. This will be true for women all over Pakistan, Scotland, and the world, until we reach justice and fullness of life for all women, and men.