Thursday, November 16, 2006

This Woman Is Very Brave

In Pakistan, a woman may be raped as punishment for crimes committed by a member of her family. When a woman becomes pregnant from being raped, after the rapists have been acquitted, she is beaten in public and/or sent to prison for having extra-marital sex. When a woman names her rapists, she is considered only a half witness (not a full person), and there must be four male witnesses (all must be Muslim) for a conviction.

According to Amnesty International
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, every two hours a woman is raped in Pakistan and every eight hours a woman is subjected to gang rape. The frequency of rape is thought to be much higher but many rapes remain unreported due to a combination of social taboos, discriminatory laws and victimization by the police. Meanwhile, Pakistani law is punishing victims of rape as though they were criminals while the perpetrators go free.
These are horrible, terrible, awful conditions in which these women live. There are not strong enough adjectives to convey my feelings about this.

With so much of the "law" stacked against women who have been raped, it is all the more remarkable that Mukhtar Mai stood up and said she was raped, pressed the case to get a conviction (which was later overturned), and became a spokesperson for women's rights in Pakistan. She nows blogs about her life through a BBC website.

Mukhtar Mai was once an anonymous Pakistani villager - but that was before she was gang-raped, apparently on the orders of local elders in a neighbouring village.

From then onwards she has been determined to bring them to justice, and her fight made her an international figure.

Some of the men she said attacked her were convicted, but then the appeal court in Lahore overturned their convictions, amid an outcry from human rights groups.

Now Mukhtar Mai, who is in her mid-30s, is writing her own internet diary, or blog, about her life and her concerns, as a woman from a remote village in southern Punjab.


Girls in Mukhtar Mai's village have her to thank for their education.

Video of Mukhtar Mai
Mukhtar Mai has become a familiar face on TV around the world

She established the school and others with compensation money awarded to her by the courts in her rape trial.

Mukhtar Mai is exceptional because she defied the shame of the gang-rape four years ago by not only bringing her attackers to justice, but also by fighting for a change in traditional attitudes towards women.

In that role, she hears many of the problems facing the women of her village. And she now contributes a weekly diary or weblog to the internet site of the BBC Urdu Service.

"Mostly I talk about incidents which are cruel and painful. I try to discuss only the most serious things in my blog: the poor treatment of women, sometimes leading to killing," she says.

Mukhtar Mai's blog is unique. Although she cannot read or write, she tells her stories to a local BBC journalist, who types it up as a web diary.

Read the rest.

This woman's courage and strength is outstanding. If we are ever to win this ill-conceived war on terror, it will be because we have raised up women to have power and control over their lives in these Islamic countries. The tribal mentality that allows them to be abused and treated as property must be transformed.

When people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins condemn all religion, they fail to see that authoritarian, punitive, restrictive religion is needed to tame and contain the tribal, egoic, power-driven version of Islamic faith so evident in the rural areas of Middle Eastern nations.

And if this ever happens, it will be because a few brave women stood up and said we will not tolerate being treated this way any longer. It will be because a few brave women got sick and tired of the abuse and the lack of human rights and joined together to stand against the men.

If young women around the world want to rally behind a woman who represents courage and freedom, they should rally around Mukhtar Mai.

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