In 2002, 30-year-old Mukhtaran Bibi was raped after her village elders in Meerwala in Pakistan's Muzzafargarh district decided she would pay the price for her brother's inappropriate behavior with a woman in his village.
Mukhtaran Bibi, now also known as Mukhtaran Mai, was repeatedly gang raped by six men; they did it to punish her family and they didn't stop until they were convinced she had paid for her brother's crime. Mukhtaran took up her case with Pakistani courts and sought help from activists in her country and around the world. Only one of her perpetrators was sentenced to life imprisonment, but she continues to fight for the cause of women in her district.
Deutsche Welle: Has the situation for women improved in your area since 2002?
Mukhtaran Bibi: Thankfully the situation is much better now. It takes years for things to get better but there have been many positive changes in our area. These people would not even let their girls study, today there are 700 girls enrolled in school.
How was the situation like in the past?
Earlier, girls used to be married off when they were eight or ten years old. They would get to see their husbands' faces only after they moved into his house after the wedding. Now things are better, because of the media and our programs. Before, no one raised their voice when there was injustice. Now, if there is any issue and even if it is not settled, people speak up for their rights.
What kind of injustice are you talking about?
Any kind of injustice: it could be rape or domestic violence. Now women raise their voices against any harm that is done to them.
What is the security situation for women compared with before? Can they now go about their daily lives without feeling threatened?
No it's not like that, we can't say that. The change hasn't been all that much. We can talk, that's all. Earlier women were not even allowed to speak. Now they do, but we hope that with our efforts, along with those of the media, that day will come very soon.
What kind of services does your organization offer?
Education is my organization's first priority. We also have a shelter home where we offer refuge to women whose lives are in danger. We also have a resource centre. Women who come to us can get a lawyer to represent them and we also arrange meetings with the courts. We also have mobile units who help rescue women from potentially dangerous situations.
What kind of situations come up where women's lives are in danger?
There are cases, for example, where a woman is forced to marry a man she doesn't want to be with. There also cases where the families get suspicious of female members if they are seen speaking to a man. Such a situation could escalate and the girls could even be killed. For this we have a telephone hotline women can call. Our resource center then sends a team to her house, with lawyers and the police.
What sort of difficulties do you face in your work?
You face difficulties in any sort of profession. For example, we face a lot of problems when we go to a girl's family to get her out of there. We don't know what they're thinking and what they are planning to do. Even our staff faces threats to their lives.
Have you ever been threatened?
Yes, I receive threats all the time, not just once; I get them almost every day.
After your own experiences and after what you have done for the cause of women, how does your society see you?
Thankfully, everyone respects me now. Earlier, people used to persecute the victims, but now that has changed.
What kind of future do you foresee for women in your area?
If we execute our laws properly, the situation could improve. But if the law and order situation continues as it has been doing until now, we will have problems. We cannot change much ourselves. The government and the law-enforcing agencies have to play an effective role.
What is your message to women on women's day?
I would like to tell women all over the world that they should stand by other women when they face injustice and when they are tortured.
Interview: Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning