Multiple discrimination and Capabilities: A Case Study of Christian Women in Karachi

Shirazi, Asima (2016). 'Multiple discrimination and Capabilities: A Case Study of Christian Women in Karachi' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract This study explores the experiential realities of discrimination faced by socially disadvantaged and vulnerable Christian women.  The objective is to identify intersectional discrimination experienced by these women from being members of a religious minority, being women and girls and belonging to lower socio-economic strata of society. Christians in Pakistan have been subject to different types of violence.  Some of these acts have been directed specifically against women such as forcible conversions to Islam. Around a 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year, the Aurat Foundation stated in a report issued on Monday evening.[1] They have been subject to several violent attacks Facing a multitude of blasphemy charges (which remain controversial to this date) as well as various attacks on Christian places of worship, followers of Christ have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of terrorists.[2] The question that arises is how these violent attacks affect the capabilities of women and their day to day functioning.  The theoretical foundation of this research is based on the Capability approach as postulated by Sen (1982, 2008) and Nussbaum (2000, 2003, 2011).  The Capability Approach provides a useful framework for discussing social justice.  It facilitates the comparison of individuals who may have access to the same set of “commodities” but the “functionings” they achieve can vary.  “Functionings are part of the condition of a person – in particular the various things that he or she manages to do (or be) in leading a life.  The capability of a person reflects the alternative combinations of functionings the person can attain, and from which he or she can choose one collection.  The assessment of welfares and of freedoms can be related to the functionings achieved and to the capability to achieve them.“ (Sen 2008 p23). Women’s capabilities are influenced by the public and private spheres.  What women can “be” and “do” is largely conditioned by the socio-economic class they belong to and their access to resources within the household and access to services provided by the state.  How is the life of a Christian woman different from the life of a Muslim woman living in Karachi?  They are both residing in one of the most violent cities in the world.  A Muslim woman may be subject to more restrictions by the family whereas a Christian woman may face discrimination when she goes out of her home or community.  Does she need to hide her identity by adorning the hijab?[3] To break the vicious cycle of poverty it is imperative that there is upward economic and social mobility.  How can this upward mobility be achieved?  A woman’s capabilities can be enhanced by access to good quality education, access to the labour market and physical mobility.  The objective of this study is to understand the challenges faced by ordinary Christian women in their day to day lives.  “The day-to-day realities of racism in the lives of women do not usually receive much attention in politics, legal systems, or societal narratives. This is unfortunate, because everyday life and experiences are a rich ground for demonstrating how convergent dimensions and systems operate simultaneously. In everyday experiences distinctions between the institutional and the interactional, between ideology and discourse, and between private and public spheres merge and form a complex of social relations and situations”[4] The methodology being adopted has been selected after giving considerable thought to the aim of this research.  A survey with direct questions would fail to elicit accurate responses and also miss the different manifestation of discrimination faced by these women. The problem raised by so radical a decontextualization of the interview at so many different levels . . . is that respondents’ answers are disconnected from essential socio-cultural grounds of meaning. Each answer is a fragment removed from both its setting in the organized discourse of the interview and from the life setting of the respondent.[5]       To contexualize the experiences and perceptions of these women a biographical narrative approach is being adopted.  This qualitative and participatory methodology will enable the study of women who are dealing with different types of discrimination and oppression both in the private and public sphere.  Face to face meetings will take place with women belonging to the Christian community.  Approximately fifteen women in the age group of 18 to 65 years will be involved in this study.  The interviews will take place in their homes and on a one to one basis so that women can discuss personal issues unhindered.  Women will be provided an opportunity to share their life experiences.  This anecdotal evidence will be analysed to understand intersecting identifications and intersectional discrimination experienced by these women.  The discussion will be developed in keeping with the research questions.  These questions will be inter alia: What are the capabilities of these women?  How much agency do they have to convert these choices into desired outcomes?  Are there any differences in the intergenerational aspirations?  What are the coping strategies used by these women?  How are they supported by their families, the community, the church, government and non-government organizations. How can diversity be embraced to move towards a more tolerant society?   Key words:     Capabilities     Multiple Discrimination          Christian Women [1] http://www.thenews.com.pk/print/51401-1000-girls-forcibly-converted-to-islam-in-pakistan-every-year [2] http://arynews.tv/en/terrorist-attacks-which-claimed-many-christian-lives-in-pakistan/ [3] A veil that covers the head and chest, which is particularly worn by some Muslim women  [4] http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/essed45.htm [5] E. G. Mishler, Research Interviewing: Context and Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 26.

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