Monday, November 07, 2005

The Pakistani who fought back and won

Woman raped for brother's transgression is Woman of the Year
By Andrea Koppel
Friday, November 4, 2005; Posted: 10:32 a.m. EST (15:32 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mukhtar Mai is a woman of few words. She speaks so softly at times that she barely can be heard. She does not smile easily and is quite shy.

But there is a steely toughness to Mai, a victim who is trying to change the way women are treated in Pakistan.

"I have a message to the women of the world and all the women who have been raped or any of the kind of violation: that, no matter what, they must talk about it and they must fight for justice," Mai said. (Watch how the quiet, angry woman made a difference -- 3:33)

Her fight began in 2002, when she was gang-raped on the order of village tribal council elders. The rape was meant to restore her family's honor after her younger brother was accused of being with a girl from a rival tribe.

In a country where, Human Rights Watch says, the vast majority of rapes and other violent crimes against women goes unpunished, Mai broke her silence. She not only pressed charges, she fought her case all the way to the nation's highest court.

In a case that sent shock waves through Pakistan, her attackers were found guilty. She used her government compensation money to build schools in her village. Since then, Mai has become a kind of Rosa Parks of Pakistan.

"First there was just my home. Now I have to deal with the whole world," she said in an interview.

Mai was obviously overwhelmed and exhausted from the travel and the hectic schedule she'd been keeping since arriving in the United States in late October. She came to receive a Woman of the Year award from Glamour, a magazine she had never heard of.

The contrast could not be more stark: a magazine known for promoting hot bodies and beauty tips honoring a devout Muslim who dresses modestly in a sari and is usually covered head-to-toe. She was introduced by Brooke Shields.

Shields called her "the amazing Mukhtar Mai." First lady Laura Bush said "she proves that one woman really can change the world."

Glamour magazine gave Mai a check for $20,000. Mai said she planned to donate $5,000 to help the female victim's of Pakistan's recent massive earthquake. The rest of the money would be used to set up a hotline and shelter for women in Pakistan who want to escape abusive relationships or to recover from the trauma of rape.

Although Mai is happy that she serves as an inspiration, she acknowledges her newfound position carries a burden.

"I do feel that if I stop now or step back it will harm a lot of women. Mai said. "So, I have to keep going and keep helping others."

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