It is often considered a disadvantage if an individual belongs to a minority group. For instance, if you are a Muslim in Europe or the United States (US), or if you are a Christian living in Pakistan.
Society also has a certain status hierarchy as per which some groups are considered superior to other groups, certain professions more prestigious than others, and even some neighbourhoods more elite than several other residential areas.
Then there comes gender-based hierarchy…
According to the Status Theory by Vicki S. Helgeson (2012), men are considered to be at a socially higher status than women. This theory helps explains tolerance towards women getting involved in activities traditionally deemed masculine i.e. assuming leadership roles, arguing that this acceptance is rooted in the perception that these women are climbing up the social ladder. On the other hand, when men get involved in activities considered feminine, they are mocked for doing so. For instance, when men want to help with household chores or pursue a career as a chef or a beautician, they are told off owing to the perception that they are moving down the social ladder.
READ MORE: Of (Religious) Pride and Prejudice
These and several other gender-based ideologies are deeply ingrained in Pakistanis and are quite hard for them to let go. Thus women are, more often than not, considered to be inferior to men, less capable of making decisions, and mostly limited to housework. The general belief is that they need to be dominated by men.
Considering religious-based hierarchies in Pakistan, Muslims are perceived to be at a higher status than non-Muslims. The country is officially called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and was created as a safe haven for Muslims of greater India. Although its founder envisioned a country free from intolerance and with the freedom to practice one’s religion, the same has never been practically implemented. In fact, there have been repeated attacks on churches among other places of worship of minority communities across Pakistan, threatening religious freedom and adding to the fears of the vulnerbable religious minorities.
Now consider the situation of such a country’s non-Muslim women. They are at a double disadvantage because they belong to two minority groups: religious and gender. They live in a culture where a woman’s opinions and desires add up to zero. In this immensely patriarchal society, it would not be a stretch to say that women’s lives are not worth much. Similarly, non-Muslims also face a certain glass ceiling and are discouraged from assuming leadership roles. Very few individuals have thus far been able to break this glass ceiling amid persecution through the misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws among other crimes such as forced conversions and underage marriages.
READ MORE: Life of a Hindu in Pakistan and State’s role in protecting its minorities
So what is the way forward for non-Muslim women? How can they climb up the social ladder? Would changing religion pull her up a bit? Would adopting certain qualities, frequently associated with men be another way forward?
Perhaps religious conversions are alluring to young non-Muslim Pakistani women as they feel it could be an escape route out of a stigmatized and marginalized group. Maybe they feel that conversion to Islam offers a better life and a better chance of being accepted in Pakistani society. Maybe they believe that religious conversion equates to climbing up the social ladder.
The main question to ask then is: Is the society promoting this religious status hierarchy? Is there a way to break this mindset?