NEWS & LETTERS, July-August 2005

NY protest supports Pakistani feminist

New York--Local South Asian and Islamic women's groups turned out June 22 to a press conference and protest against the government of Pakistan for its refusal to permit Mukhtaran Bibi to travel out of the country. Ms. Bibi, who became a women's rights defender following horrific violence against her, was embarking on an international tour June 9 when she was briefly arrested and her passport was confiscated.

Three years ago, a Pakistani tribal council sentenced Mukhtaran Bibi to be gang raped as punishment to her family for an alleged affair between her brother and a woman of a higher-ranking tribe. After the sentence was carried out, she was forced to walk home naked in front of onlookers. Instead of committing suicide out of shame, as is customary for raped women in Pakistan, she began to fight for justice. She got the perpetrators prosecuted and six were convicted, although five convictions were since reversed and she continues to live in fear of retribution.


Incredibly, Ms. Bibi refused to move away from her village. She used her compensation money to start two elementary schools (she made sure the children of her rapists could attend them) and a women's shelter, as well as acquire a local ambulance. She began to speak out against honor killings, rapes, acid attacks, and other violence against women in Pakistan. One speaker at the protest said her actions had turned her into a symbol of hope and of loyalty.

Several speakers highlighted the Pakistani government's lies that it enforces women's rights. One speaker pointed out that General Musharraf had denounced NGOs working for women's rights, calling them "as bad as terrorists." Another speaker said, "If this is how the government treats an internationally known woman, imagine how it treats poor women," and told of a recent women's demonstration that was attacked by the police.


In the past 15 years, we were told, most progressive changes have come from the grassroots, not the government. One speaker emphasized that violence against women does not arise from Islam but from male chauvinism, just as in the U.S., violence is not due to Christianity. A speaker from the sponsoring organization, the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women, insisted that "we are not unpatriotic for raising conditions in Pakistan in the Western media." Another local woman said, "we need to be supporters, not leaders, of the movement in Pakistan."

--Anne Jaclard

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