Bid to end discrimination against Pakistan sanitary workers

NCHR launches campaign aimed at removing discriminatory language from adverts for 'sweepers'

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Updated: January 26, 2022 09:35 AM GMT

Rabiya Javeri, chairperson of the National Commission for Human Rights, speaks at a consultation in Islamabad on Jan. 25. (Photo supplied)

A government human rights body has launched a campaign to protest discriminatory advertisements for the recruitment of sanitary workers in Pakistan.

The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) campaign, launched on Jan. 25 in Islamabad, features sharing awareness messages through print, electronic and digital media, a series of online posts on discriminatory advertisements for sanitation workers, information on the government's quota system and highlighting the deaths of sanitary workers.

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The NCHR also announced a plan to file a suit against the government to remove discriminatory language from advertisements for sanitary workers.

Eighty percent of sanitation workers are Christians whereas they are only 1.5 percent of the total population. Why only sanitation? asked NCHR chairperson Rabiya Javeri.

The state and society push the weakest and most vulnerable communities into this occupation. Advertising non-Muslim as a qualifying condition for sanitation jobs is an example of systemic discrimination. Oversight and diversity are huge areas and important lenses for the NCHR.

Javeri was speaking following a consultation titled Stop systemic discrimination against minorities held with civil society representatives in Islamabad on Jan. 25.

It is humbling to see that the commission has finally decided to take it up. It's time for Pakistan to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent

NCHR strategic planning speakers urged accountability at district and tehsil levels to make human rights a priority at all levels of governance. 

The NCHR also screened a documentary about two Catholic sanitary workers who died in a sewer in Sargodha, Punjab province, last year.

Christians are often despised by the majority-Muslim population in Pakistan and referred to as chuhra, a pejorative caste-based term meaning sweeper or janitor.

Job advertisements published by both provincial governments and security establishments inviting applications from non-Muslims for sanitation posts often discriminate against the community.

On Jan. 12, Islamabad High Court issued notices to various ministries on a writ petition seeking a ban on job advertisements that specifically reserve the post of sweepers for members of minority communities, particularly Christians.

In 2009, the national government reserved a 5 percent job quota for minorities in all federal and provincial government posts. However, rights organizations claimed that most people from religious minorities were doing menial jobs.

The Annual Statistical Bulletin of Federal Government Employees 2017–18 states that only 2.8 percent were hired, and most of them were concentrated in low-paid work. As of 2021, there were 29,692 vacant minority posts of different grades for recruitment across Pakistan, said Javeri.

Sweepers Are Superheroes, Pakistan's first advocacy campaign to outline social attitudes and working conditions of sanitary workers, lauded the NCHR.

It is humbling to see that the commission has finally decided to take it up. It's time for Pakistan to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent, said former lawmaker Mary James Gill, who launched the campaign in 2019.

Public sector organizations published more than 290 discriminatory ads from February 2010 to August 2021.

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