As the famous saying from the 1950s South African women's protest movement goes, "when you touch the women, you have struck a rock." This saying came to mind as two rock-strong women were in the recent news. Three years ago, Mukhtaran Bibi, a Pakistani villager, faced down the deplorable tradition of women being gang-raped as a punishment for the crimes of other family members. In her case, her brother had drawn the ire of the village elders, who ordered her gang-raped as punishment for the brother. Instead of rolling over and accepting this, as tradition dictated, she hauled her rapists along with the elders into court and had them convicted and jailed, and then used the compensation money to start a school in her village. Recently, this courageous woman had been intending to visit the US to tell her story (and raise more money for her charitable works), when President Musharraf, not wanting Pakistan to look bad, put her under house arrest and released her rapists from prison. Of course, President Musharraf had horrible advice on that one, and should be embarrassed not by Mukhtaran Bibi, but by his government's reaction to this situation. (Feel free to send email to President Musharraf and tell him what you think. Also email Condoleeza Rice, who has been expressing US disapproval through diplomatic channels. Hat tip to my friend Cathy on this one.)
Meanwhile, last week also saw the 60th birthday of Aung San Suk Kyi, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Myanmar, who has been under military confinement for most of the past 16 years, and has never been able to serve her elected office. Nonetheless, she has stayed in her country to serve as a beacon of democracy and leadership, at great personal cost. (She had some opportunities to leave, but knew she could never come back, so she chose to stay, despite not being able to see her children living in England and her husband who died in 1999, and who was not allowed to enter Myanmar.) People throughout the country quietly celebrated her birthday with symbols such as releasing 10 doves (to mark the number of years she's been imprisoned) and 61 ballons (to start her 61st year of life). (You can read more about Burma and support Aung San Suk Kyi here.)
These courageous women, along with others like them (the recent Nobel Peace laureates Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Wangari Maathai of Kenya come to mind). It's worth taking a moment to read their stories, and to thank God for rocks like them.