Vital Voices Hosts Women’s Advocate Mukhtar Mai of Pakistan
On October 27, Vital Voices held a roundtable discussion, featuring Mukhtar Mai, on women’s rights in Pakistan and the work of the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. After surviving a brutal gang rape by four assailants, the punishment for the crime allegedly committed by her brother when he held hands with a girl of a higher caste, Mukhtar says she felt it was necessary to help others in similar situations because, she says, “when you experience hardship and do not get help it makes the experience that much more difficult to live through.” Her case reached international prominence when highlighted by New York Times columnist and author Nicholas Kristof, who wrote of Mai’s near unprecedented decision to prosecute her rapists. Mukhtar was recognized by Vital Voices in 2006 with the Fern Holland award and her story is among those featured in the play Seven.
In order to benefit the community, Mukhtar established the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. The organization’s services include a free legal help clinic, two schools for girls, a shelter for abused women, and a telephone helpline service. Through these avenues as well as others, Mai and her staff are able to educate six hundred girls, provide assistance to over one thousand female victims of violence, and support the local school for boys.
Over the past two years, the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization has partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in order to build the organization’s capacity as well as providing technical assistance. Kristin Kim Bart, a member of the IRC team working with Mukhtar, describes how she sees Mukhtar:
“Mukhtar and [her colleague] Nasim [are] visionaries who were able to see dreams and formulate their projects into monuments.”
Though Mukhtar has faced a number of death threats as a result of her advocacy, she remains determined to follow through on her promises to help the her community and sees no sacrifice as too costly in the fight for women’s human rights.