Mukhtaran Mai, the Pakistani woman who survived a gang rape and subsequently became a vocal feminist activist focused on ending sexual and domestic violence in her country, walked a runway at Pakistan Fashion Week Tuesday night as “a symbol of courage” for other women.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that designer Rozina Munib requested Mai walk in her show as a symbol that women can carry on even after the most nightmarish experiences. Mai emerged to a roar of applause and took selfies with showgoers, while conveying her message to press:
“I want to be the voice of those women who face circumstances similar to what I did,” Mai said. “My message for my sisters is that we aren’t weak. We have a heart and a brain, we also think.”
“I ask my sisters to not lose hope in the face of injustice, as we will get justice one day for sure.”
In 2002, Mai, then 28, was gang raped and paraded around the Pakistan village where she lived, punishment by council for attempting to defend her brother from arrest. She opted not to die by suicide, which she’s said she considered, and instead worked to get her rapists arrested; after a harrowing process that went to the Supreme Court in 2011, five men (of 14 accused) were ultimately acquitted, and Mai accused of lying. Yet in June, that decision went under judicial review, a rare turn of events and one that gave some hope to Mai in receiving justice. The Guardian:
“It gives me a bit of peace that at least they are listening,” says Mai. “My prayer is that these men are punished. If they don’t get justice in the court, then I hope Allah gives me justice.”
A favourable ruling in Mai’s case “may create an impetus for rape law reform”, says Sahar Zareen Bandial, who played a key role in drafting proposed legislation to reform the rape laws, currently under review by a parliamentary committee.
Mai’s memoir, In the Name of Honor, was released in English in 2006. That same year, she founded the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Organisation in her hometown of Meerwala, focusing on educating girls and young women and functioning as a shelter for women and girls who have been subjected to violence.
Before walking the runway, Mai told Pakistan’s Express Tribune:
“I am walking the ramp to spread awareness about the struggles women go through. This is for the women in my society, it is for those who have no one and no place to go to,” Mukhtaran told The Express Tribune.
When asked why she chose this particular platform, Mukhtaran Bibi had a warm response. She graciously said, “All that I do, I do it for my children (at the shelter) and women. This is for them. I can’t do this alone hence I found an anchor in the media to help spread my message.”