It takes a bit of doing to get Mukhtar Mai on the phone. She doesn’t give her number out freely owing to threats she’s received for her decade long quest for justice. Still, when I hear her voice, direct and undaunted, I feel my own begin to shrink away.
After all, Mai is a force to be reckoned with. In 2002, Mai was gang-raped under orders from a village council as atonement for a crime that her younger brother had allegedly committed.
As news of the violence wrought on Mai began to spread, she was called in to a local police station and asked to sign off on a pre-written statement. Illiterate at the time, Mai was neither aware of what the document said nor was she able to sign her own name. With a single thumbprint she consented to its contents, unaware of the implications of this one simple action.
As it turned out, this moment marked a new beginning for Mai. One in which she would become the face of a movement to reform Pakistan’s draconian rape laws which have so often backfired on victims of sexual violence by implicating them for adultery, an offense punishable by death. Standing up against her abusers in court was a very risky move and Mai’s family was far from supportive of her decision to seek legal recourse.
Read the rest of this post featured by the Pulitzer Center on Crises Reporting as part of an ongoing project on education in Pakistan.