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Pakistani Woman Speaks Out Against Discrimination

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Pakistani Woman Speaks Out Against Discrimination

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Pakistani Woman Speaks Out Against Discrimination

Pakistani Woman Speaks Out Against Discrimination

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Mukhtar Bibi was raped on the orders of a village council in Pakistan, after her younger brother was accused of making advances toward a woman from a powerful tribe. Mukhtar has since become an outspoken critic of the violence and discrimination in her country, and visits Washington this week.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A Pakistani victim of gang rape has brought her story to the United States. Last night in New York, Mukhtar Bibi received Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year Award. She will use the award money to help earthquake victims in Pakistan. She is also using this trip to campaign against the system of tribal councils that ordered her rape. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Covered in a yellow head scarf, a shy, soft-spoken Mukhtar Bibi struggled to read a short statement at a congressional human rights caucus this week. As her interpreter explained, the 36-year-old Pakistani villager is only just learning how to read.

Ms. MUKHTAR BIBI: (Through Translator) Most of you know my following story. The feudal lords using illegal and non-religious local tribal council to violate my honor.

KELEMEN: It was in 2002 that a local Jirga ordered her to be gang-raped to punish her for what she said were false allegations that her brother had an affair with a woman from a higher caste. Human rights activists who have been helping her tell her story say that tribal Jirgas routinely order rapes, and victims often commit suicide. Mukhtar Bibi chose to speak out.

Ms. BIBI: (Through Translator) Instead of allowing them to succeed and achieve their goal, I have acquired a realistic and constructive attitude. I have raised a voice against oppression and I have faced several obstacles.

KELEMEN: President Pervaiz Musharraf initially blocked her from coming to the US. Fearful that she would taint Pakistan's image, she's been careful here to focus on her concerns about feudalism rather than criticize the government. Other human rights activists are not so reserved. Asma Jahangir chairs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and says she's worried about Pakistani leaders intervening in rape cases.

Ms. ASMA JAHANGIR (Chair, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan): Justice is something that should be given as a matter of routine to people. Why is it that the prime minister and the president of a country have to stand in the way or have to facilitate the process of justice for every victim of rape?

KELEMEN: There have been other rape cases in Pakistan that have captured international attention, including that of Shazia Khalid, who's now in Britain. Back in September, President Musharraf told The Washington Post that a lot of people say if you want to go abroad or become a millionaire, get yourself raped. When Musharraf denied making the comment, The Post put the audio up on its Web site.

(Soundbite of Web site)

President PERVAIZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): And other people say that if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.

KELEMEN: Musharraf has insisted he's trying to fight the root causes of violence against women, which he says is a global phenomenon and not restricted to Pakistan. During Mukhtar Bibi's meeting on Capitol Hill, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged the US to use its leverage with its ally in Pakistan to improve women's rights. Under current Pakistani laws, to prove rape, women have to have four male witnesses siding with them, and if they don't, they risk being sent to prison for adultery. Human rights activists are using Mukhtar Bibi's first trip to the US to shine a light on these laws and to push for change. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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