Pakistan bore the full brunt of world outrage this month after published reports that a tribal council sentenced a 30-year-old woman to be forcibly raped by four men as punishment for her brother’s alleged affair with a woman of a higher prestige tribe.
The incident happened in the last week of June after the brother of Mukhtar Bibi was accused of carrying on an “illicit affair” with a woman of the Mastoi tribe. Bibi and her brother are from the Gujjar tribe which has a lower social standing.
A tribal court decided that as punishment, Mukhtar Bibi would be raped by four men of the Mastoi tribe. In front of hundreds of witnesses, the four men took her in to a room and raped her for more than an hour. The woman’s father tried to stop the rape, but told CNN that, “We begged for mercy in the name of God from them, but they held guns on us and so we were helpless.”
Pakistani police largely ignored the matter. Although the rape took place on June 22, it wasn’t until more than a week later that police began investigating the rape, and then only because a group of human rights lawyers all but forced them to. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was extremely critical of the local police, and promised an investigation into their inaction.
Meanwhile, two of the four men who participated in the rape have been arrested along with some members of the tribal council that passed the outrageous sentence.
Although the tribal decision was extreme even for Pakistan, women’s rights activists in Pakistan noted that such human rights violations are par for the course in a country that is often extremely hostile to women. After all, honor killing is a major problem in Pakistan and that country has sentenced more than one woman to death by stoning for adultery (although none of those sentences has been carried out yet). Human rights activist Fouizia Saeed told The BBC,
We must condemn institutional acceptance of women symbolizing honor and the routine rape and killing of women being carried out to dishonor or restore honor to families, and institutionalized violence.
This controversy is also a stark reminder of what often seems like an impassable chasm that separates Western attitudes toward women from those in countries dominated by traditionalist versions of Islam.
Police attacked in Pakistan rape case. The BBC, July 5, 2002.
Pakistan police arrest second gang rape suspect. CNN, July 6, 2002.
Protests over Pakistan gang rape. Owais Tohid, The BBC, July 3, 2002.