News from the front lines: building and dignity for women in Pakistan

Nearly forty Companions and guests from seven chapters gathered at Christ Church in Needham, Massachusetts, on Saturday March 12 to meet with Alice Garrick, Executive Director of the Women’s Development and Service Society of the Church of Pakistan. Alice coordinated her visit with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which meets in New York City every March. She describes her work as “a voice for the voiceless” women in Pakistan suffering from poverty and limited access to schools and trade.

Alice’s ministry began in 1989 to empower rural women, gradually expanded its focus to include children, and now looks at whole families of any denomination or faith. They are supported by partners in prayer across the globe, and are registered with the government to provide social services. About 25% of the women served are Muslim, and all are very poor.

During the first five years, the focus of the program was simply “awareness,” teaching women about health and raising consciousness. During the second five years, they began practical work, including medical camps and supporting education for girls. The next five years saw an expansion into five projects. Four of these projects involved rehabilitation for sex workers (most home-based, to support addicted or indigent husbands), HIV/AIDS awareness, midwifery training, and vocational training, which ranged from embroidery and tie-dyeing to business and marketing skills. The fifth project is a summer program for self-enhancement. The women meet in small groups to identify their problems, then present what they have learned to the whole group for discussion. In the process they practice skills of group discussion, negotiation, and public speaking.

Alice was initially sent by her bishop to look into the issue of home-based prostitution. She gathered a team of health workers, social workers, and doctors who knew who was involved in such work. The women came together in a group and were offered support, training in new kinds of work, and programs for their daughters to enter different kinds of work. Fathers initially opposed these efforts because their source of income (wives and daughters) was threatened. The first two years were tough. Once the first class of midwives graduated and found jobs which earned MORE than prostitution and were receiving marriage proposals, most dropped their opposition. In 2010 the program was in three congregations; this year it will be in 36 congregations. Over 3,500 women have completed the course. Bible study, part of the program, increases the confidence and inner strength of the women.

Asked about violence against Christians in Pakistan, Alice explained that whenever there is anti-Muslim action abroad (US, Denmark, and Paris, for example) the local people take out their anger on the closest Christian neighbors because they have no way to reach those who were involved. In addition, because of “blasphemy laws,” it is easy to make a petty accusation against a Christian neighbor. Many remain in jail after such accusations. Those who have spoken out against these laws have been gunned down. The laws have strong popular support.

Sarah Braik, SCHC

 

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