Thanks to Nadz's post on a few amazing women
, I was reintroduced to Mukhtaran Bibi (also known as Mukhtar Mai
), whose story I had read in the newspaper three years ago. Then, she had been a hopeless victim in a small village, sentenced by a Pakistani tribal council to be gang-raped, as punishment for an alleged offense committed by Mukhtaran's little brother. Then, what set Mukhtaran apart from all the countless women before her who had endured a similar ordeal was that she miraculously did not
commit suicide, as is the expected course of action for a "dishonored" woman in a conservative Muslim society. Instead, she went public.
No matter what kind of environment a
person [edited because boys and men shouldn't be excluded]
grows up in, reporting one's own rape must be frightening and humiliating. But in a society where a woman's word has little authority, trying to stand up for oneself can be downright dangerous. According to this article
by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof:
"In Pakistan, if a woman reports a rape, four Muslim men must generally act as witnesses before she can prove her case. Otherwise, she risks being charged with fornication or adultery--and punished with a public whipping and long imprisonment."
Now, three years later, I was amazed to learn that not only had Mukhtaran testified against her attackers at court--six men were sentenced to death--but she had used the settlement awarded to her to build two schools for her village, one of which is for girls, a first. She could have taken the money and run; and I don't think anyone would have blamed her. Indeed, Mukhtaran was offered the option of living the remainder of her life in comfortable anonymity in Islamabad. But it was in her own village that she believed she could make a difference--and she has. Through education, Mukhtaran hopes to create a fairer, more hopeful world, where someday women will not be subjected to rape and murder to appease men's whims and honor and to assuage their fears.
Mukhtaran however did not quietly retreat to her village, never to be heard from again. She has openly invited interviews and accepted offers to speak about her experiences and about women's rights in her country. With her quiet strength and her willingness to put herself on the line for the sake of others, she has won the support of the media, the public, and even the Canadian government
. With the contributions she has received, she has installed electricity in her schools and has other plans in the works, such as improved medical services for the people in her village. But perhaps Mukhtaran's most important achievement to date is the courage she has given to the unheard and unknown women who have been through a similar situation. Demonstrating in a very public way that she will not obediently shut up and die, and that a woman can fight for herself and even win—for Mukhtaran, the consequences of such radical actions have meant living with 24-hour police protection, because of the very real threat posed by her rapists' supporters. What’s more, by remaining devoted to her village, she has accepted the possibility that her rapists might soon return, free men, to become her neighbors once more.
That's right, those men were
convicted, but then they got acquitted, and even set free for a bit. However, just weeks earlier, the Supreme Court of Pakistan decided to take over the case.
If I were the praying sort, I’d be praying for this woman. As it is, the only thing I can do is help spread her story and encourage support not just for Mukhtaran but every woman who could be spared her fate.Some interesting comments in this blogger's post on Mukhtaran.