Any victory in the court then becomes hollow for a rape survivor who gets picked up by the media to forever be etched in people’s memory through a singular lens. It is her name and not the criminals that becomes public property for discussion, deconstruction and discourse
If for no other reason, Parvez Musharraf definitely lost some fans in Pakistan when, bemoaning the negative attention in international media received by the gang-rape of Mukhtaran Mai, he remarked “"if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped."
He was of course worried that this high profile rape that made Mukhtaran a household name overnight was a bit at odds with his ‘enlightened moderation’ in Pakistan spiel. Wherever and whenever her experience was recounted, be it courtrooms, talk shows, university halls or in presentations in development conferences with feminist agendas, her name became ubiquitously associated with rape and victimisation. No one would be able to recall the names of her rapists who are forever erased from the public memory.
Dr. Shazia Khalid has earned her place in the echelons of public consciousness for similar reasons. She has the second most popular meme associated with women who are rape survivors in Pakistan. She even has her own Wikipedia entry. Her claim to fame? She was raped. The New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote repeatedly about it urging readers to lobby for her asylum in Canada. In all the news reports, articles and drawing rooms where her story is recounted, her rapist is identified to allegedly be some army officer. His name, honour and prestige remain unscathed.
Any victory in the court then becomes hollow for a rape survivor who gets picked up by the media to forever be etched in people’s memory through a singular lens. It is her name and not the criminals that becomes public property for discussion, deconstruction and discourse.
More and more evidence suggests that when the mainstream media profiles rape survivors and their cases become public information, it causes complex problems for the family of the survivor. Little heed is paid to the consequences of publicising these cases on the family who by and large would want to leave their name out of it for security, honour and cultural concerns.
This suggests that there may be an increasing disconnect between women who are raped and people who represent them, speak for them, claim to fight for their social justice. These well-intentioned women’s movements, government ministries and evangelical journalists end up not understanding what their beneficiaries really want.
This is not to suggest that rape survivors or their families do not want the help or compensation that can potentially come with the media attention; more often than not, it is their only hope for legal recourse. It would, however, be helpful if the media, civil society and the government highlight the identities of the rapists rather than the victims if the aim is to attain social justice.
Today Mukhtaran Mai and Dr. Shazia are powerful images that become symbolic of violence against women in the third world. They don posters appealing for more aid and serve as examples in feminist discourse, while their complex personal histories get lost in larger rape story. What these representations mean for the survivor and her family versus what it means for the perpetrator of the crime in terms of justice or retribution and rehabilitation, are necessary complications that must be deliberated and problematised.
Rabayl Manzoor is a development economist and self-identified feminist working with Rural Support Programmes in Sindh for Monitoring, Evaluation and Research of the Landless Peasants Project. She also volunteers at Gender Interactive Alliance that works for the rights of transgender people in Pakistan. She teaches Economics and History at SZABIST and blogs athttp://obamasaysdomore.wordpress.com. She's based in Karachi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org