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     Volume 6 Issue 19 | May 18, 2007 |

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Book Review

In the Name of Honour

Sabrina F Ahmad

Every March, we observe Women's Day, celebrating the triumphs, big and small in the battle for women's emancipation. And triumphs there have been. From getting the right to vote, to heading governments, women have certainly come a long way. Every now and then, however, a story comes up to remind one of how much there still remains to be achieved. In the Name of Honour is one such story.

Mukhtar Mai née Mukhtaran Bibi, made headlines in June 2002. Gang-raped as 'punishment' for an 'honour crime', one that was never proved, everyone expected her to commit suicide, as is normal (and yes, apparently such cases are quite common in rural Pakistan), but she decided to fight back by speaking out against her aggressors. Throwing the international media into a frenzy as the world reeled in horror at this mockery of human rights, she stood up, not only for herself, but for all the women in her community who suffered as she did. In this book, she shares the story of her struggles, the amazing real-life fable of how one illiterate woman, stranded in a man's world stood up to influential opponents and emerged victorious as the headmistress of a school.

The story, narrated by Mukhtar Mai, was originally written in French by Marie Therese Cuny. In the Name of Honour was translated into English by Linda Coverdale. The language is simple and unassuming. Mai draws the spotlight away from herself and instead chooses to address the horrors that women face on a daily basis in her village and in other villages like it in Pakistan, and the legal system that victimises them.

"Here in Pakistan, it is difficult for a woman to prove that she has been raped, since she is legally required to provide four male eyewitnesses to the crime. This is to ensure that the law and chiefly the punishment for rape are not misused."

At the very onset of the legal battle she embarked on, Mukhtar Mai realised what an enormous drawback her lack of education was for her. She also realised that she was not alone in this problem. From that came a new personal mission: to establish a school and thus free the women in her village from the curse of illiteracy, whereby they could become more aware of their rights.

As she continued to appear under the media spotlight, she came to hear of similar cases of oppression against women, and she chronicles these cases in her narrative. Her story had been compared to that of Dr Shazia Khalid, a former physician for Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), who was raped in her home in Baluchistan in 2005, and later threatened by powerful people to keep quiet. Dr Khalid was ultimately forced to flee the country with her husband, and now lives in exile in England.

As depressing as these stories are, they are a powerful eye-opener about women's rights in Pakistan. Mukhtar Mai manages to sound optimistic even in the face of all these, and focusing on her success with her school, manages to be hopeful about the future.

In the Name of Honour is available at Words N' Pages.



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