Jun 20, 2005
Under the pressure of widespread international publicity, the Pakistani government has lifted the travel ban on Mukhtar Mai. Human rights groups had invited Mukhtar, a gang-rape victim, to the United States for public appearances.
Three years ago, the barbaric crime against Mukhtar gained worldwide publicity and called attention to the oppression of women in Pakistan. Supposedly to punish Mukhtar's family for her brother's alleged affair with a married woman, a village council had ordered the young woman to be gang-raped.
As outrageous as it was, this incident is nothing unusual. In Pakistan as well as many other third-world countries, women are often kicked out of their homes, beaten and even killed in the name of "family honor." Governments not only look the other way; they sometimes actively participate in these crimes – by jailing women for "adultery," for example, or for running away from a forced or abusive marriage.
The only difference in Mukhtar's case was that, unlike most victims, she spoke up against these horrendous crimes women are subjected to. International women's and human rights organizations helped publicize her cause, to the degree that the Pakistani government saw itself forced to do something about it. Some of the men who were involved in raping Mukhtar were put on trial; 12 of them were sent to prison. With the money she received as compensation, Mukhtar set up schools.
As the publicity began to die out, however, the Pakistani government reversed gears. Mukhtar's attackers were released from prison, while Mukhtar herself was detained and banned from traveling abroad.
Once again, human rights organizations reacted. The renewed publicity embarrassed not only the Pakistani government but also its ally and sponsor, the U.S. government. So, once again, the Pakistani government saw itself forced to reverse its position and allowed Mukhtar to travel.
George W. Bush and other officials of his administration don't miss any opportunity to declare themselves champions of freedom, democracy and women's rights around the globe. But some of the worst offenders of women's rights in the world, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, are among the closest allies of the U.S. And the U.S. has always ignored the repression these backward regimes carry out against women.
But why should this surprise anyone? In this country also, thinly veiled under the guise of "pro-life" and "family" values, a broad attack against women's rights is underway. And, to appease its reactionary religious voter base, none other than George Bush himself has taken the lead in this attack.