Righting Wrongs for Pakistan’s Women

It is not so often that we see a leader like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. fighting for a cause in which they truly believe. Sadly, many people cower when faced with injustice and are incapable of finding the backbone needed to stand up to an oppressor. But every once in a while, even in this day and age, you will find someone like Mukhtar Mai, someone who is trying to change a society that looks upon women as property to be bought and sold, like slaves or cattle. The West and General Musharraf should support Mai in her efforts to bring justice to the land and should use her case to promote women’s rights and democracy in Pakistan and throughout the Middle East. Mai is a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped by four men who were carrying out the orders of a jirga, or village court, in June 2002. Mai’s brother, Abdul Shakoor, had been spending time with a girl from the Mastoi tribe, a tribe in the region with much more influence and power. The members of the Mastoi tribe claimed that their honor had been besmirched, and they demanded that Mai be raped in order to defend this so-called honor. As Mai’s family watched helplessly, Mai was dragged into a room by these four men and was raped. To add insult to injury, Mai was paraded naked in the village, before hundreds of onlookers, as an example of what would happen to anyone who defied the influential strongmen in the region. Even in a nation like Pakistan, where sexual abuse of women is commonplace, there was an uproar among the general public. The local Muslim imam condemned the rape in his sermon on the Friday afterward and convinced Mai’s family to file charges with the government against the members of the jirga and the men who had carried out the orders. When the charges were filed, the events of the rape leaked and quickly became headline news across the world. Protests erupted in Pakistan to condemn the use of sharia, Muslim law, by the tribal court to prosecute Mai’s family, especially on a charge that was completely unsubstantiated. Even as the large majority of perpetrators of such sexual abuse crimes go unpunished in Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East in general, Mai refused to hide in fear and chose not to go silent. Despite threats of violence from the Mastoi tribe and from supporters of sharia, Mai pursued the case in the courts. Mai’s attackers, and two of the members of the Mastoi tribe, were found guilty and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorist court on August 31, 2002. These courts specialize in the prosecution of cases involving terror or mass intimidation. Mai was also awarded compensation by the courts worth approximately $8,000. Rather than simply use this money for her own personal needs, Mai decided to use the money to create new schools in her area to compete with the Islamic madrassas, which preach violence and hatred towards the West, women, and members of different religions. Mai hopes that these schools will be able to liberalize her society, breaking the iron grip placed on the rights of women in Pakistan. However, Mai’s fight is not yet over. On March 3, 2005, the Lahore High Court acquitted five of the six men sentenced to death on appeal. Once more, Pakistan and the rest of the world went into an uproar over the senseless decision made by the court. The Pakistani government appealed the acquittals to the Pakistani Supreme Court, which ruled that the case should be retried. Mai will have to wage war against her attackers yet again, and sadly, she appears to have made little impression on General Pervez Musharraf or any other members of the Pakistani National Government. Musharraf ordered that Mai not be allowed to travel outside the country in June 2005, but faced with intense pressure by Amnesty International and other human rights groups, he rescinded the ban. However, Mai’s passport was confiscated, rendering Mai incapable of traveling outside of Pakistan. Mai was awarded the Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal for bravery and courage by the Pakistani Government in August and was named this past week by Glamour Magazine as a Woman of the Year. While Mai visited the United States to accept this honor, Musharraf made comments to the Washington Post attacking Mai for using her rape for “moneymaking concerns.” Whether Musharraf actually believes what he said or whether he is simply trying to appease hardliners at home, he should still know better than to soil Pakistan’s image by making such a provocative statement. It has become such a cliché to say that winning the War on Terror requires winning the minds and souls of people in the Middle East, but Mai’s case proves yet again that this is true. Mai is using the courts in her effort to fight oppression, and the United States should be actively supporting her efforts. The kind of schools that she built strengthen Pakistani society by fighting back against the madrassas. The hatred towards the West would be eliminated, as would the terrorist war against India, the major democracy in the region. Musharraf is still at a crossroads in his presidency on how he wants the Pakistan of the future to be: a peaceful democracy committed to upholding civil liberties and republican values, or an Islamic war state, bent on the destruction of India, the United States, and Israel, through the use of terrorism. Ihe future of Pakistan, unfortunately, lays in one man’s hands.