Fighting with the Sky

In the Name of Honor – Mukhtar Mai [Women's Studies Wednesday]

Posted on: September 9, 2009

This is a cross-post from Miss Wizzle at  Miss Wizzle is a product of the Midwest suburbs and was raised to think for herself. She never realized how important this upbringing was until she was transplanted into the Wild West and the like-minded community she gre up with became a distant memory. After a couple years in the conservative west, she has developed a clearer idea of who she is, what she believes, and why she believes it.  Read Miss Wizzle’s previous cross-post.


The Middle East has become the focus of a great deal of attention in the recent history, and as the region continues to draw our interest, we are increasingly made aware of the status of the women who reside there.  In her heartwrenching memoir, In the Name of Honor, Mukhtar Mai allows us into her personal experience of trauma, loss, courage, hope, and the quest for justice in Pakistan.

After a family feud results in false accusations of rape committed by her twelve year-old brother, Mukhtar Bibi (as she was called at the time) must present herself to the rival family, the Mastois, and offer an apology on behalf of her family.  Guided by her father, older brother, and uncle, Mukhtar bravely carries her Koran into the neighboring community, wholly unprepared for what is about to occur.  A number of the citizens turn guns against her chaperons, and four men carry Mukhtar into a dark barn where she is gang raped and then tossed out, humiliated and half naked.  The intensity of the experience, and the feeling of being in that dark building with Mukhtar is devastating.

Following her assault, Mukhtar falls into a deep depression, having lost all honor for herself and her family.  She considers suicide, explaining that the aggressors “know that a woman humiliated in that way has no other recourse except suicide.  They don’t even need to use their weapons.  Rape kills her.”  However, Mukhtar’s loving mother refuses to leave her daughter’s bedside, even as she begs for acid to drink.  Finally, the hopelessness subsides and Mukhtar is driven by her anger to do something unheard of in such cases: report the attack and fight back until justice is served.

Mukhtar fights an uphill battle the whole way to the Pakistani Supreme Court as a result of pressure from jirgas (traditional tribal councils) on local government, false testimonies composed by police officers taking advantage of the widespread illiteracy of women in the region, and the misogynistic bias that prohibits her access to a fair trial or even humane treatment.  Despite all this, Mukhtar never gives up, and in fact uses her case to draw global attention to the status of women in Pakistan, and the use of rape as an essential bargaining chip in the relations of tribes and clans in the country.  In order to make the lives of future generations less painful, Mukhtar uses the money she is offered from various causes to start a school for girls as well as boys, and becomes a source of hope and strength for those who survive horrendous abuses and traumas as a result of the old ways of the patriarchial, misogynistic culture.

The courage and persistence demonstrated by Mukhtar Mai despite it all is cause for hope.  “Sometimes, the magnitude of the problem overwhelms me,” she states.  “Sometimes I’m so angry I can hardly breathe.  But I never despair.  My life has a meaning.  My misfortune has become useful to the community.”  Because women like Mukhtar are beginning to stand up, the world is noticing.  Their stories turn a distant region into our own backyard, and force us to stand alongside them.

To learn more about the causes of Mukhtar Mai, visit these links.


1 Response to "In the Name of Honor – Mukhtar Mai [Women's Studies Wednesday]"

As a Pakistani feminist myself, I loved your review but I’d just like to point out that Pakistan is in South Asia not the Middle East ^^

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