Father Inayat Bernard, rector of the Sacred Heart Cathedral, is pictured (centre) with catechists, nuns and lay participants of the newly introduced Women's Day program in Lahore on March 8. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry/ucanews.com)
A Catholic women's group in Pakistan has launched a three-year plan to empower women in different parishes of Lahore Archdiocese.
"Be prepared to welcome them in your homes. Feel free to share your problems with the team and they shall find possible solutions," said Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore in an address marking the launch of a special program introduced on March 8, International Women's Day.
The event was jointly organized by the Sacred Heart Cathedral parish team and the Catholic Women's Organization (CWO).
It included lectures on family values and personal hygiene as well as poems, games and singing performances. The organizers pasted purple ribbons on more than 150 people, mostly women.
According to the speakers, the new campaign will empower minority women who are currently treated as third-grade citizens and less important than Muslim women.
Human rights groups say that forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages are "crimes" that minority Christian and Hindu women in the country face.
Similar programs were held in different dioceses.
The youth group of the Sacred Heart Church in Sahiwal, also in Punjab province, dedicated the event to Asma Jahangir, a respected Pakistani rights advocate who passed away last month.
The biggest rally was staged in Islamabad, where the Women Democratic Front condemned the patriarchal system.
"Keep the law and customs away from our bodies" stated a placard held aloft by a teen calling for the freedom for women to choose their own wardrobes and travel freely.
Shaheen Yousaf, the CWO coordinator in Lahore Archdiocese, said she plans to recruit new activists.
"Women leadership has been a constant crisis for the church. We shall visit targeted communities to raise awareness among women of their rights and the law," she told ucanews.com.
"Divorces are increasing among Christian families due to extramarital relationships. Every year, we see at least five cases of domestic violence," she said.
"Children keep consulting their parents even after they get married, which can subject their families to crises."
The, CWO has organized training and seminars on family life and women’s rights in Pakistan since 2007.
In 2016, the organization conducted free checkups and delivered medicine to 457 patients under its one-year preventive health care project.
It now runs two sewing centers for uneducated minority women in slum areas.