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Mukhtaran Mai, gang-rape victim in Pakistan.
EPA/Rahat Dar
Making a bold statement.
MUKHTARAN MAI

A Pakistani gang-rape survivor turned activist makes her runway debut

By Maria Thomas

One of Pakistan’s most iconic women’s rights activists, a gang-rape survivor, made her runway debut this week.

On Nov. 01, Muktharan Mai donned a pastel green salwar kameez and walked the ramp for designer Rozina Munib at Fashion Pakistan Week, making a bold statement against the culture of shame that often shrouds rape survivors, both in Pakistan and around the world.

In 2002, Muktharan was raped by a group of men in her remote village in the region of Punjab. But instead of keeping quiet, she chose to speak out about the incident and embarked on a lengthy battle for justice that drew support from around the world (and even inspired a chamber opera).

Through it all, Muktharan has worked tirelessly for the cause of women’s rights in Pakistan, which ranked at the lowly position of 121 out of 155 countries (pdf) in the UNDP’s 2014 Gender Inequality Index, a measure of women’s empowerment, reproductive health, and economic activity. Using the compensation money she received from the government, Muktharan opened schools that offered free education for girls, and later launched a shelter to help other survivors of violence and abuse.

“Mukhtaran suffered terribly but instead of committing suicide or succumbing to depression she stood up for her rights. She won against all odds and moved on with her life,” Munib told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, noting that her goal was to go beyond the usual choice of celebrities and actors and inspire women with Mukhtaran’s story.

Here are some photos of Mukhtaran’s pioneering walk down the runway: