Washington In a quiet voice - almost a whisper - Mukhtar Mai spoke of her fight against a system back home in Pakistan that allowed a tribal council to deem it acceptable that four men could rape her to avenge their honor after her brother allegedly had sex with a woman above his class.
"I am fighting a fight against oppression, where women and the poor are oppressed ... by feudal lords," she said Monday night through an interpreter, reading from a prepared statement and addressing a group of human rights activists. "They have power and money, and all I have is you and your support. God willing, truth will have victory."
Mai's story is one of overcoming adversity and the difficulty of her ordeal was echoed, to a lesser degree, by the difficulty she had in coming to the United States where she is to receive Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year Award today in New York City.
While in the United States, she also hopes to further her plans to educate a new generation of Pakistanis about the need to end the kind of tribal law that sanctioned her rape, said Dr. Amna Buttar, a University of Wisconsin physician who served as her translator Monday.
Mai said she is taking $5,000 from the $20,000 prize and donating it to recovery work for the mammoth earthquake last month that killed tens of thousands in Pakistan.
The rest of the money will go to her plans to establish schools and a women's crisis center. She has already set up a school for girls. She said she considers schooling equally important for boys, because they must learn that under Islam, and under the law, women have the same rights to be left alone as they do.
Mai allegedly was ordered raped in 2002 by a council of elders in Meerwala, her home village in eastern Punjab province, as punishment for her 13-year-old brother's alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste family. Mai and her family deny any affair ever took place and say the brother was in fact sexually assaulted by members of the other family.
In Pakistan, the method of restoring a family's honor by rape is commonplace. Often, the victim kills herself in shame.
Not Mai, 36. Her outcry drew international attention and brought the men who attacked her to the national courts of Pakistan.
A trial court in 2002 sentenced six men to death and acquitted eight others in Mai's rape. In March, the High Court in Punjab province acquitted five of the men and reduced the death sentence of the sixth to life in prison.
After an emotional appeal by Mai, the acquittals were overturned in June and the 13 men who had been released were arrested again. They remain in jail while Pakistan's Supreme Court considers the case.
Mai said she has no intention of leaving Pakistan, as another woman did who says she was forced out of the country after being raped by an army officer.
"I think that the fight can be fought only by living in Pakistan," she said. "You cannot fight by leaving."
Even coming to the United States posed a significant challenge. Mai had been invited by the U.S.-based women's rights group Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women earlier this year to tell her story in the United States. But authorities confiscated her passport.
After officials in the United States and other countries strongly condemned the move, Islamabad rescinded the ban and returned her passport.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a strong ally of Washington, acknowledged that he had ordered the travel ban to prevent Mai from casting Pakistan in a bad light.