Mukhtaran Bibi was in the news for a brief time in 2002 and then was forgotten until recently. She is the Pakistani woman who was sentenced by a tribal council to be gang-raped for an alleged offense of her younger brother. Several of her neighbors carried out the sentence, brutally raping her and forcing her to walk naked through her village. She was meant to be so shamed that she would commit suicide, but instead she found the courage to overcome her disgrace. She demanded the prosecution of her attackers, and six were sentenced to death.
Mukhtaran received $8300 in compensation, a substantial sum in her remote region of Pakistan. Instead of using the funds to move to Islamabad where she could escape from her shame, she decided to start a school for girls in her village. With additional contributions from many who learned of her efforts through the media, the school now provides elementary education and literacy training to 130 poor and orphan girls. Mai and her friends operate the school themselves, and until now they have been supplying books, uniforms, and shoes to the girls without assistance from the Pakistani government or any non-profit organizations.
Mukhtaran’s story might have ended here, except that on March 3, 2005 a Pakistani court overturned the death sentences of all six men who raped her and ordered five of them freed. The case has become an embarrassment for the Pakistani government as her story became more widely known, forcing the courts to reverse themselves.
Mukhtaran’s story of heartbreak and triumph is sadly typical of countless stories of women and girls in poor countries around the world. The exploitation of women, particularly in poor countries, is the most serious abuse of human rights in the world today. Tens of millions of women and girls in Asia alone are exploited for their labor, working long hours for pennies a day to supply cheap goods to discount stores like Wal-Mart. Countless thousands of young girls in poor countries are trafficked for sex, the most heinous crime in the world today. Women (and girls) in poor countries die at a rate of one per minute from complications of childbirth without the most basic of health services.
Concerned persons should make every effort to commit their resources and advocacy to issues of gender equity. Wealthy nations should be held accountable for their role in the exploitation of the world’s poor women and girls. Each of us should find a way to make a contribution, however small, to the health, welfare, education, and dignity of our sisters.