Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pakistani Women of the Year

Mohsin Abbas

Toronto, Oct 30, 2005

Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman who won international fame for speaking out against her gang rape ordered by a village council in her country, is in the US to receive an award for courage from American fashion magazine 'Glamour', which has chosen her the 'Woman of the Year 2005'.Mai, who arrived in Chicago and would attend several functions there to raise funds for the earthquake victims in Pakistan, would be presented the award at a star-studded function here on November 2.The magazine has selected her 'Woman of the Year 2005', an honour bestowed in earlier years to, among others, former first lady and now Senator Hillary Clinton and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.Thirty-six-year old Mai had angered Pakistani government for her outspokenness and decision to visit the US and at one stage authorities in her country had taken away her passport which was returned after international hue and cry and sharp criticism from human and women rights groups.The gang rape was ordered by the council of village in Pakistan in June 2002 in retaliation for alleged affair of her brother with a woman from a higher caste.Braving social stigma, she lodged a police complaint and spoke out against the council. Legal proceedings against her alleged rapists are still going on in Pakistan's Supreme Court.
Once, a docile inhabitant of a remote village in southern Punjab province of Pakistan clutched a worldwide repute, in a spur of moment, when her story of gang-rape hit the headlines of the media, not only in Pakistan but the world-over.
The print and electronic media raced with a swift pace to disseminate the news item in an atypical way. This scenario eventually, took-out Mai from a state of isolation and placed her onto the horizons of the Orb with her visit abroad, the first-ever in her life.
After the ill-fated episode, she had to face by the orders of an influential tribal assemblage [Jirga], not only that Mai now speaks to media with full command and confidence in a skilled and distinctive oratory style, she has also gained physical vigour and verve with a lustrous and glowing hale and hearty face as well as is well-acquainted with the usage of modern gadgets like the mobile phones, which is of-course her right like others cell-phone users, without any problem in any mode or manner.
Former US President Bill Clinton will introduce her to the star-studded event at Lincoln Centre in the New York City on November-2.
Mukhtar Mai says that she would donate $5,000 of the $20,000 prize for earthquake relief, while the rest would be spent to expand the two schools she runs for girls in Meerwala, a remote village in southern Punjab.
“I’ve gained a lot of strength from building the school. I would not be alive today if I had not gained this strength, and I have more faith in Pakistan because of this,” she said.
Hectic Schedule
Mukhtar Mai, who was chosen as ‘Person of the Week’ by ABC last Friday, is scheduled to attend several seminars and meetings in the US at which she is expected to appeal for help to Pakistan in its hour of need.
Several American and Canadian documentary filmmakers are expected to follow Mai during her stay here.
She is also likely to visit Washington to urge Congress to stand up for women’s rights in Pakistan and pledge an additional $50 million in humanitarian aid to her country, but specifically for earthquake-affected women and children.
In a letter to Mai, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive explained that the magazine honoured the women who had struggled for the cause of women. Mai was invited to visit the US till November-5.
"We look for strength. We look for persistence, a woman of the year is someone who believes that women can do whatever they set their mind to, and Mukhtar illustrates those qualities better than anybody," said Cindi Leive.
Beacon of Light
Her case attracted international attention, and using donations from her well-wishers she has since set up a school for girls in her rural community.

Before leaving for USA, Mukhtar Mai said, “I am a beacon of light for women being subjected to rape, kidnapping, burning, nose or ear chopping. My school is an institution for girls of remote areas where free books, uniform and other facilities are provided to help make them aware of their rights.”Mai said she only came to know about her award from the U.S. embassy this week. "I have decided to go to New York as it is a good opportunity to motivate U.S. government officials and the American people and Pakistanis to do more for the earthquake victims."
Mai said the government did not need to worry about what she might say while abroad. "I'm a Pakistani and I have no intention of tarnishing the country's image. But I will speak on the plight of women in rural areas," she said.
Before boarding the aircraft, which is to take her abroad first-time in life Mai said she has no plans to stay in America. She said she will also use the trip to collect donations for victims of this month's monster earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of people in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir.
Mai has an appeal pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan against a lower court's order to free 13 men accused of involvement in her rape