Mukhtaran Mai, who has been called the “Rosa Parks of Pakistan,” was in Chapel Hill last week speaking about violence against women. On June 22, 2002, elders of a Mastoi tribal council in her small Punjabi village of Meerwala ordered that she be gang-raped by four Mastoi men as a way of punishing her 12-year-old brother after he was seen walking with a girl from a higher caste. Mai was gang-raped by at least four men, then publicly humiliated by being forced to walk home naked with the village watching. Mai’s family claimed it was all a coverup to keep the boy from telling the truth–that he was sodomized by Mastoi men.

Though the usual result of such “honor” crimes is the suicide of the young woman, or even her killing by her own family, Mukhtaran Mai dared to bring charges in court. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan supported her case, and it gained crucial international publicity. Eventually, four men and two tribal elders were convicted in anti-terrorism courts.

With money she received from the government and international donors who read about her struggle, she started two schools in her village–one for girls and one for boys. About 250 girls now attend the school. It is her belief that oppression can only end with education. Mai, illiterate when she opened the schools, has learned to read and become a national organizer and international symbol of the struggle against violence inflicted on human beings simply because they were born female.

Mai’s most recent efforts are to help the thousands of people left homeless after an earthquake devastated parts of Pakistan on Oct. 8. To find out more about that effort as well the school she started in the village of Meerwala, or to send donations, visit the Web site of the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights at, e-mail her at, or send contributions to ANAA, P.O. Box 628454, Middleton, WI 53562.