Gang rape survivor walks the runway at Pakistan’s fashion week

Mukhtar Mai, who survived a brutal gang rape and public humiliation years ago, walked the runway at fashion week in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday in a show of strength and courage meant to inspire women. Her appearance on the runway drew applause from the audience as well as the models she shared the stage with.

“If one step I take, if that helps even one woman, I would be very happy to do that,” Mai told The Associated Press in an interview. Her debut on the runway is indeed inspiring — as is the arc her life has taken over the last 14 years. In 2002, Mai was sentenced by a council of village elders to be gang raped and paraded naked through the streets of Mirwala, a small town in Pakistan’s Punjab region. Mai’s offense: having brought dishonor, in the eyes of her brother, to the family.

After the horrific attack, Mai went on to fight for her attackers and the men who sentenced her to such a barbaric punishment. In 2006, her struggle for justice became the subject of a short documentary film that laid bare the hypocrisy in Pakistani culture: Pakistan’s constitution guarantees women and men equal rights, but culturally women enjoy no such equality. She took her legal battle all the way to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Eventually, 14 men — the alleged rapists and the council members who sentenced her — went on trial. Six of the men were given death sentences, but all of them were released after legal appeals, the AP reports. In the years since, Mai has become a leading international advocate for women’s rights. She founded Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization, a charity aimed at protecting and nurturing the welfare and support of Pakistani women and girls. In 2009, Mai married a police constable, according to Agence-France Press, and in 2011, the couple welcomed a baby boy.

Surrounded by the fashion industry’s top names Mai took to the runway wearing a green bridal shirt and silver, silk pajama pants, and a light green headscarf. The BBC has video of her walking the runway, which can be viewed here.

Mai, talking with the AP about the momentous occasion and her continuing ambitions, sounded resolute about her purpose and optimistic about the power of hope. “I want to be the voice of those women who face circumstances similar to what I did,” she said. “My message for my sisters is that we aren’t weak. We have a heart and a brain, we also think. I ask my sisters to not lose hope in the face of injustice, as we will get justice one day for sure.”

Watch the short documentary on Mai below.