Nicholas Kristof, as he often does, reminded us this week of the global and economic dimensions of the struggle for women’s health, safety and equality.
He starts with the simple story of Shamshad, an 11-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in rural Pakistan. Her parents have not been able to find any local or national justice for her death. And what’s worse is that they themselves have been targeted for making such a big deal out of it.
Amidst all the active governmental neglect of violence against women, though, Shamshad’s parents, writes Kristof, “have found a sanctuary: the shelter run by Mukhtar Mai here in the remote village of Meerwala.”
Mukhtar (who also goes by the name Mukhtaran Bibi) survived a gang rape to become a fervent campaigner for voiceless women in Pakistan.
I’ve written about Mukhtar repeatedly over the last few years, and she now runs several schools, an ambulance service and a womens aid group. Her home and courtyard are full of women and girls who trickle in each day, shell-shocked by injustice or disfigured by beatings or acid attacks. Mukhtar arranges medical or legal help and does what she can to address their needs. Mukhtar arranges medical or legal help and does what she can to address their needs.
In this particular case, Shamshad’s parents are receiving help from Aisha, a women who Mukhtar had rescued earlier and is now replicating her work.
Unfortunately, now Mukhtar herself is being targeted — along with her top aide and closest friend, Naseem Akhtar — and it looks like the harassment is coming from the government of President Musharraf, “who fears that Mukhtar displays Pakistan’s dirty laundry before the world.” Specifically, “Naseem’s brother was in a mysterious vehicle accident, her father was ordered arrested for no apparent reason and her own house was broken into.”
In the final line of his op-ed, Kristof boldly wields what power he has: “I have a message for President Musharraf: Don’t even think about it. Start protecting Mukhtar instead of harassing her. And if any ‘accident’ happens to Mukhtar or Naseem, you will be held responsible before the world. We are watching.”
In a complementary blog entry, Kristof points to specific organizations that concerned readers can contact if they don’t want to be “voiceless” themselves. Some excellent comments follow.