Combatting Violence and Rape in Pakistan: Mukhtar Mai Is a Survivor Who Fought Back

Mukhtaran Bibi also known as Mukhtar Mai is a Pakistani woman from the village of Meerwala in Pakistan. She is a renowned women’s rights activist who, after surviving a horrendous gang rape in 2002 on the orders of a local tribal Council, fought a historically patriarchal system at every level. She went on to establish a women’s refuge in her own home and a school to combat violence against women and girls in her community; her organisations support hundreds of women.

At the time of her attack, her 12-year-old brother had been falsely accused of carrying out an affair with a married woman, after also suffering from gang rape by a group of men. In an act retaliation, a local tribal Council ordered the brutal attack on Mukhtar Mai, who was then subsequently paraded naked in public as a form of honour revenge carried out by rival clans.

Mukhtar Mai refused to be silenced and live her life in shame, or even as customary in many instances commit suicide. She spoke up against the incident, which came to the attention of local and international media in September 2002.  Six out of the 14 assistants who perpetrated the crime against Mukhtar Mai were sentenced to the death. Three years later in the High Court of Lahore, the verdicts were overturned due to insufficient evidence and five of the six were acquitted, a sixth man was given a life sentence.  Mukhtar Mai appealed the decision in the Supreme Court’s in 2011 who decided to exonerate her attackers.

Out of this horrendous crime and miscarriage of justice, Mukhtar Mai refused to be quiet or concede defeat and went on to establish the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization which supports, educates and empowers women and girls through her local region. In 2007 she won the north-south prize from the Council of Europe and Glamour magazine named he not only had films made about her life and her ordeal, but her autobiography was also number three best seller in France, and she is endlessly praised by women’s rights activists on an international level.  Furthermore, she continues to work for the rights of women despite having to live in fear of her life due to constant death threats.

The ‘Girl’s Model School’ for women, founded in 2003, provides resources, shelter and organizes the walk the catwalk during Pakistani fashion week in 2016 to highlight attention towards sexual violence against women in Pakistan. Her appearance on the catwalk marked a symbol of courage and hope for women who have suffered at the hands of patriarchal societies were violence against women and girls can often go unpunished. Mukhtar Mai was not only advocating for her throughout the world where women’s rights and voices are curtailed by policies and a justice system working in favour of the perpetrators and not the victims.

Mukhtar Mai believes that, through her gender-based human rights work, she can provide access to quality education for girls their civil, political, social economic and cultural rights. The Girl’s Model School began. However, today her school provides free education, books, supplies, uniforms and supports over 550 girls all the way from nursery to grade 10. Students andwith a free shuttle service so they can travel to and from home to school in safety. She even opened the second school, however, was temporarily closed due to flooding.

A women’s shelter opened in 2006, which provides refuge and services to women who have been subjected to viol them to transition back into everyday life by focusing on, education and personal safety. The shelter was established in Mukhtar Mai’s own home in 2002 where women survivors were given a safe space in her own home.

Within just a few years, the organisation had assisted hundreds of women survivors of domestic violence, rape and crimes in the name of honour, including women who have suffered from acid attacks and children who had been forced into marriage. Women are given shelter, food, clothing, psychological counselling, legal aid and medical support. There is even a hotline telephone service and mobile transportation service that helps respond to emergency cases which ows transport staff and beneficiaries to hospitals, courts and lawyers. The model school even has a resource library which provides opportunities to the college and university students, researchers, journalists, other NGOs, social workers and human rights activists.

For Sixteen years Mukhtar Mai, was never expected to speak up and prosecute her attackers. She was supposed to remain silent, and to disappear or die of shame. Nevertheless, despite Mukhtar Mai and her family receiving countless threats over the years and even restrictions on her right to travel abroad to speak about her experiences, she has continued to fight for women’s rights and remains outspoken.

Written by Sabera Ahsan

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Sabera Ahsan is a former Primary school teacher, police equality advisor and government policy officer. She currently dedicates her time to writing and reading about Moorish Spain.