Women’s Rights in Pakistan: Descending into Darkness

mukhtar_mai Mukhtar Mai, a leading Pakistani women’s rights advocate, gained fame for the way she courageously stood up to traditions that violated her human rights. Online, one can find plenty of information about her – her gang rape, her recent marriage, her strides for women’s rights and education, and the harassment that she has faced from Pakistani government officials. While her past is now known around the globe, her future, in light of the Multan Electric Power Company’s June 11 raid on the Mukhtar Women’s Welfare Organization, remains uncertain. With the exception of coverage by Nicholas Kristof’s blog (“A Hero’s Ordeal in Pakistan“), Ms. Mai’s current dire situation in Pakistan is not well-known. The latest harassment towards Ms. Mai, which within the context of previous incidents was obviously not an isolated event, must mobilize the public to demand action from the Pakistani government.

On June 11, 2009, the Multan Electric Power Company raided the MMWWO in Meerwala, Pakistan, and disconnected all electricity to the grounds, falsely accusing the organization of stealing electricity despite records proving they have paid all bills in full. MMWWO and hundreds of families in the surrounding area were without power for several days. Today, while the power to the surrounding area has been restored, the MMWWO grounds, which house the Mukhtar Mai Girls Model School, Women’s Resource Centre, and Shelter Home for battered women (whose premises was raided despite the fact that men are strictly prohibited), are still enduring blistering temperatures. According to MMWWWO employees who were witnesses, the power company officials claimed that the raid was ordered by Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, the Federal Minister for Defense Production. This raid has significantly hindered the ability of Ms. Mai’s organization to carry out its important human rights work, providing services for vulnerable women, girls and boys.

In 2002, Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped on orders of a traditional village council as punishment for acts allegedly committed by her younger brother. Instead of suffering in silence, Ms. Mai fought back and testified in a rape case against her attackers and is now a leading Pakistani women’s rights activist. The case is now before the Supreme Court after a lower court granted the convicted men’s appeal. Hearings for the supreme Court case have repeatedly been delayed, but her attackers remain imprisoned and her case is pending.

The June 11 incident is only the latest in a series of harassing incidents carried out by government officials to dissuade Ms. Mai from seeking accountability for past crimes and carrying out her work. Throughout the court proceedings, Ms. Mai has faced harassment by government officials, most notably by Minister Jatoi. In 2006, he visited Ms. Mai to ask her to reach a compromise with her attackers. In 2008, he again pressured Ms. Mai to drop the charges against her attackers, allegedly insisting that if she proceeded with the case, he would ensure a verdict in favor of her attackers. Most recently, in February 2009, Minister Jatoi’s associates engaged in a media campaign against Ms. Mai, stating that her attackers are innocent and that the entire case is a “fraud” and a “western agenda.”

Since 2002, Ms. Mai’s record of promoting human rights has put her in danger. To date, no government action has been taken to ensure Ms. Mai’s safety and ability to continue her advocacy. She and her colleagues bravely continue their work, in the darkness and sweltering heat, but the government of Pakistan must step up its commitment to her organization and to the Pakistani women for whom they demand rights. Today, Human Rights First joins other non-governmental organizations in demanding an end to the Pakistani Government’s harassment of Mukhtar Mai. You can find out more and take action here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/human-rights-first/mukhtar-mai-pakistani-wom_b_219553.html

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