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n Saturday, September 24, 2005, a number of groups came together for a rally and protest against General Musharraf's indifference to violence against women in Pakistan. This rally was the culmination of several months of planning and discussion among many different kinds of groups. The group I am involved with, Pakistani Activists for Gender Equality (PAGE), is a left feminist group. But despite differences in ideology, we believed it was important to be part of the broad coalition of groups organizing the protest. The timing of the rally was dictated by the session of the United Nations General Assembly. The UN marked its 60 th anniversary this year, so the opening session of the General Assembly was planned as a celebration which many world leaders would attend, including General Musharraf.

During the summer, PAGE got word that Amnesty International (in conjunction with some other groups) was planning to coordinate hearings in the U.S. Congress on the matter of violence against women in Pakistan. Muktharan Mai was planning to testify in these hearings. News of Mukhtaran Mai's imminent departure from Pakistan prompted Gen. Musharraf to place Mukhtaran in "protective custody"; that is, house arrest. Her passport was confiscated and she was unable to leave the country. Therefore, congressional hearings did not take place. Of course it is an outrage that Mukhtaran was forcibly prevented from traveling outside Pakistan. But PAGE had another concern as well. We did not want Mukhtaran's ordeal to be used in the service of the imperialist project. We were dubious that any good could come out of hearings in an imperialist and racist institution such as the U.S. Congress.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Asian-American Network Against Abuse (ANAA), then planned the rally in September during Musharraf's visit to New York. PAGE co-sponsored the rally (along with a number of other groups) and read out a statement. Unfortunately, the reality of imperialism is that an event like this in the U.S. will have more of an impact than one in Pakistan. And the Musharraf government in particular is much more sensitive to external criticism, since the U.S. is its biggest benefactor, and Musharraf has been trying to promote the notion of his regime furthering "Enlightened Moderation."

The rally was intended primarily to raise visibility both in the U.S. and in Pakistan regarding the issue. It was not intended as a way to negotiate demands with the Musharraf government. We know that the military regime has made the situation worse for women's rights, but the issue is not restricted to this particular government. Unfortunately, previous governments have not had significantly better records on women's rights. The fact is that no matter WHO is in power in Pakistan, women's rights must be protected.

The rally was successful in that it did attract considerable media attention, particularly Pakistani media outlets. [An estimated total of 100 people attended the rally.] The ensuing media attention seems to have caused the Musharraf government to take women's rights activists as a more serious force. Now, the pressure must be kept up.


PAGE Statement Against General Musharraf

More information available at: [Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights]

First published in Ghadar []