100 Women 2014: Raped for punishment in Pakistan

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Media captionThousands of the so-called "honour" killings take place every year around

A Pakistani woman who was gang-raped in 2002 as punishment for the alleged sins of her brother has told the BBC that women in her country never get justice. Mukhtar Mai was attacked in the southern Punjab village of Meerwala, allegedly on the orders of village elders, because her younger brother supposedly had a relationship with someone inappropriate.

After Ms Mai took the unusual route of seeking justice through court, her case attracted national and international attention.

She spoke to BBC Urdu's Nosheen Abbas.

I remember everything. It's not something I can forget - it'll always be a part of my life. It happened in 2002. I remember every single thing, even the time it happened.

I was sitting at my parent's house, and they chose me to go and apologise for what my brother had done. I lament that they chose me, but I didn't want this to happen to any of my sisters either.

Image copyright Bhas Solanki / BBC
Image caption Mukhtar Mai's brother was deemed to have offended the honour of the powerful Mastoi clan by allegedly having an affair with a clanswoman

I tried to commit suicide twice after the incident because I felt like I wasn't getting any justice. What happened to me is another form of honour killing.

Honour is a toxic word. Honour is only for men here, it's not for women, who are always to blame in any given situation. The owner of a woman's honour is a father, brother, father-in-law.

A girl doesn't even have her own home: first it's her father's home, then her husband's home and then ultimately her son's home.

What happened to me is part and parcel of our system. It says that there is a difference between a son and daughter: one is better than the other.

It starts from the mother. When something is cooked, food is first given to the son and father, and if there's any food left over they'll give it to the daughter.

Men and women both have rights, God gave both rights, but it's all about lack of awareness, false traditions created by society, no law. And if there are laws, they are not implemented. Girls are killed for choosing their own partners for marriage.

And they never get justice because the killer is the father and the prosecutor is the mother - this is the system and it's a vicious cycle. Why doesn't a woman ever get justice - is a woman not a human being?

After 12 years, I am still going through appeals to the courts to get justice. The court says you need four witnesses - well I have the whole village as witnesses - but it boils down to the mindset of men in this patriarchal society.

Image copyright BBC - Nosheen Abbas
Image caption Mukhtar Mai set up schools for girls in her village with compensation money she received for her ordeal

The biggest problem is feudalism and the fact that people don't get justice. When there is no hope of getting justice, then people go to village elders because the police aren't listening to them.

And the elders will make the same decisions as the decision that was made for me.

These traditions need to end: the world is moving forward, and we seem to be standing in the same place.

Things have not improved; the only difference is that women have started asking for their rights. The media has helped a lot.

A woman never used to raise her voice or leave her house, but now a woman goes out, goes to courts, goes to meet lawyers. She is seen everywhere but there is still no justice.

Since my incident in 2002 there have been no similar events in my village. There has been a shift. The feudal authorities used to make decisions, but now there is no council the way there used to be.

Now the policemen make that decision. Even child marriages have been controlled. When I used to leave the village and come back I would find out that some girls from my school as young as nine had been forced to get married.

But now we have even stopped some weddings from happening.

Analysis: Turkish journalist Pınar Ogunc

How can a man point a gun at his own daughter or mother? And how can he do this because she's been raped? How could a man beat his supposedly beloved girlfriend to death because she decides to break up with him? What makes a man stab his wife 17 times when she asks a stranger, another man, the time?

Gender-based crimes are among the most organised of crimes. Crimes against women in the name of honour or religious or traditional morals are never committed alone; the perpetrator always has accomplices.

I refer not only to the family councils who sometimes deliver a woman's death penalty, but to the justice system, mainstream media, education system and popular culture.

All can behave like the spiritual relatives of the criminal, turning the whole society into a huge family.

On the other side of collective crime, there is collective punishment.

This violence that aims to defend an imaginary flag of honour seems to carry a message for all women through the one who fails to fit the required female code.

It is no surprise that these collective crime and punishment terms remind us of wartime conditions. Indeed, feminists used the same metaphor of war in the 1990's to define this form of systematic discrimination.

A war waged against the body, the sexuality and the labour of women - a war with many fronts, from Mexico to Russia, from Pakistan to Italy, from Canada to Thailand.

We need a holistic approach to create an anti-war attitude.

But first we need a determined political will if women continue to be killed, even under the protection of the government in spite of international conventions.

The BBC's 100 Women season runs online, on BBC World News TV and on BBC World Service radio from 27-29 October. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #100Women.

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