Pakistani rape survivor turned education crusader honored at UN

Muktar Mai

2 May 2006 – Muktar Mai, a Pakistani woman who became a world-renown education and women’s rights activist after she was gang raped as clan vengeance in her native village for crimes allegedly committed by her brother, spoke at United Nations Headquarters in New York today, drawing praise from UN officials for her bravery.

“I think it is fair to say that anyone who has the moral courage and internal strength to turn such a brutal attack into a weapon to defend others in a similar position, is a hero indeed, and is worthy of our deepest respect and admiration,” Under-Secretary-General for Communications Shashi Tharoor said in introducing Ms. Mukhtar, who was invited to the UN by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pakistan’s UN Mission.

Mr. Tharoor said that after the horrific crime, which occurred in 2002 in a rural village called Meerwala, Ms. Mukhtar refused to be cowed by traditional strictures under which she was expected to commit suicide out of shame. Instead, with the support of her immediate family, her Imam and some journalists, she took steps to ensure the full force of the law was levied against her attackers.

“Since then, she has demonstrated that she is a woman of enormous courage and conviction, by turning her horrible experience into a rallying cry against the violence and injustice that is perpetrated against disadvantaged women in many parts of the world,” Mr. Tharoor said.

Moderating the event, CNN anchor Soledad O’Brian expressed admiration that, after receiving an award from the Pakistani Government of 500,000 rupees, Ms. Mukhtar returned to the village in which she had experienced such pain instead of leaving the region, founding a school that now has 300 girls and 200 boys, along with a crisis center that advises women and girls threatened by childhood marriage and other practices.

Questioned by Ms. O’Brian and the audience at the UN meeting room, Ms. Mukhtar explained the importance of education for woman’s rights. “When [I was pursuing justice], the uneducated people tried to stop me and the educated people supported me. So I thought education was important,” the soft-spoken woman said through an interpreter.

“My slogan is: ‘End oppression with education,’” she added, noting that after her efforts in her rural village, attitudes there have changed quite dramatically.

Under-Secretary-General Tharoor, a native of India, recognized the scale of that accomplishment: “As someone who comes from a country that has also struggled to find ways to overcome dire social challenges and to end the often brutal practices of our traditional pasts without surrendering our unique history and identity, I can assure you that the obstacles that Ms. Mukhtar Mai and her fellow Pakistanis face are not small, and that hers is no small achievement,” he said.

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