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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 16:21 GMT
Rape victim wins respect and awards
By Ayesha Tanzeem
BBC News, New York

Mukhtar Mai
Mukhtar Mai has campaigned since being raped in 2002
Her plain white clothes and the dupatta (traditional long scarf) wrapped around her head seemed quite a contrast to the glitz and glamour around her.

After all, it was an evening hosted by one of the biggest fashion magazines, Glamour, in one of the biggest cities of the world, New York.

And she was Mukhtar Mai, an illiterate woman from an unknown village in Pakistan.

Yet, when Hollywood star Brook Shields announced her name and told the story of her unrelenting courage, a hall full of people in suits and cocktail dresses stood up to welcome her on stage.

They stood for several minutes to honour her, and tennis superstar Serena Williams mentioned her name in her own acceptance speech.

Soft but determined

Mukhtar Mai (also known as Mukhtaran Bibi) was in New York on the evening of the 2 November 2005 as one of the recipients of this year's Glamour Woman of the Year award.

Among other winners were former Irish president and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Hollywood stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Goldie Hawn.

Mukhtar Mai came on stage with Amna Buttar, president of Asian-American Network Against Abuse (ANAA), who was acting as her translator.

She spoke with her now familiar soft-spoken voice as she appealed for an end to "oppression with education."

She says that all the media attention and her new celebrity status helps her get her message across, but she still craves the simple life, when she was an unknown woman in Meerwala who taught children the Koran and showed girls how to sew.

Rape and Glamour

Ms Mai's fight started with the men who gang raped her and the village council that allegedly ordered the rape in 2002. To this day it continues in the courts of Pakistan to get justice for herself.

The road from an unknown victim of violence to the Glamour woman of the year has not been easy.

Video of Mukhtar Mai
Mukhtar Mai has become a familiar face on TV around the world
When she was first raped, she was expected to commit suicide after the loss of her "honour."

Instead, Glamour said while introducing her, she showed the world the "meaning of the word".

The last time she was invited to the US by ANAA, she was stopped by the Pakistani government.

The reason given was that she might say something to tarnish the image of Pakistan.

This time, she has been criticised by some for leaving a country wreaked with earthquake havoc.

Right after the awards ceremony Amna Buttar was seen arguing with a gentleman of Asian descent over why Ms Mai did not say more about the earthquake victims while accepting the award.

She had appealed for help for those victims during her brief speech.

She had also said in media interviews before the ceremony that one of the reasons she came to the US was to appeal for help in the earthquake relief efforts.

New life

Her gang-rape three years ago changed Mukhtar Mai's life, and her struggle for justice has changed the focus of her life.

She is now known and introduced not as a victim of abuse but as an advocate of women's rights.

Mukhtar Mai with friend
Life in the Pakistani village of Meerwala is often tough

During a congressional briefing in Washington a day earlier, she said that there should be mobile teams of lawyers available for victims of violence just to enable them to file complaints with the police after an incident.

She could not read what the police had written about her rape when she had signed their report.

She has opened up schools for girls with the money donated to her from around the world.

And she is fighting to change the jirga or village council system that led to her rape in the first place.

Glamour magazine is starting a women's crisis centre in Pakistan in honour of Mukhtar Mai.

She herself has started a new fund organised by ANAA for the rehabilitation and support for victims of violence.


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