WHEN Farzana Parveen, a 25-year-old pregnant woman, was stoned
to death in front of a courthouse in Lahore last month, the world
reacted in horror. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was only
streets away at the time, described it as "a revolting lynching"
For Shunila Ruth, a local politician in Lahore, such crimes are
commonplace. "These are the stories, the happenings that we hear
and see, day-in, day-out," she said this month. "It's almost 5000
women who are killed per year from domestic violence. Many are
maimed and disabled, and the majority of victims have no legal
Ms Ruth has worked all of her adult life to champion the rights
of women in Pakistan: "It is my pain, my passion, and my mission."
Speaking at Christian Aid's offices in London, she described her
journey from growing up in the Church (her father was a Moderator
of the Church of Pakistan) to becoming a member of the Provincial
Assembly of Punjab.
As co-ordinator for the Women's Synodical Church of Pakistan in
the 1990s, leading work to support women and to enhance their
leadership, she set up a programme for women who were victims of
violence and had been abandoned by their families, providing them
with training to enable them to become economically
"I felt that the Church needs to stand by these women, because
in my culture the State doesn't look after them," she says.
Ms Ruth identifies with these women, having experienced what she
describes as a "very rough marriage life", before being abandoned
with two children. Her work is not without risk. In 2012, four
masked men attacked her near the women's centre she was running.
She was hospitalised.
In 2009, she joined Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
(PTI), and, after adding 25,000 members to the party's books, was
asked to stand for election.
There are 66 seats reserved for women in Punjab Assembly, and
eight for non-Muslims, out of a total of 371. Ms Ruth believes that
the constitution needs to be reformed to address
There is also continuing violence. She travelled to All Saints',
Peshawar, on the day a bomb killed 80 worshippers (News, 13 September). "The people are even more
strong in their faith," she reports. "The church is packed every
Some progress is being made. This week, it was announced that
the Chief Justice of Pakistan had ordered the formation of a
National Council for Minority Rights.
Ms Ruth will continue to fight for the rights of minorities and
of women. "If it is a concentrated struggle, there is hope for
women in Pakistan."