An imminent Pakistani activist, whose campaigns to empower girls have won her international accolades, has defied a travel ban and has fled to the US.
Gulalai Ismail said she feared of her life after speaking out against sexual harassment being carried out by the army in the north-western province of Pakistan.
After four months on the run, they succeed in eluding a vast hunt and has turned up in the US to seek asylum. Ismail never wanted to become overseas dissent but believes that there has been a closing of the political space in Pakistan, where the army has remained the dominant power-breacher for the country.
Ismail said she posed a threat for being a vocal woman. “When a man raises his voice, he is ought to be against the state oppression, but when a woman stands up she faces oppression on various levels such as cultural norms, patriarchy as well as state oppression.
She was a teenager when she co-founded Aware Girls in 2002, which promotes gender equality in the deeply conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.
In 2107, she won Anna Politkovskaya award for human rights advocacy. A year before, she was honored by Chirac Foundation in France and has been welcomed by Michelle Obama.
Quoting witnesses, she said the army crackdown on Pashtun militants near the Afghanistan border had led to frequent disappearances. Most women chose to keep quiet on the issue, but when a boy told her security forces were barging into his home and harassing his mother, she went to investigate.
In May 2018, police filed a complaint against her under an anti-terrorism law after she spoke about the rape and the murder of the 10-year-old girl.
She avoided the discussion on how she escaped Pakistan, as she didn’t want to put others at risk. Her name was circulated to seek her arrest and airport authorities told her not to leave.
She said security forces had attacked her driver and a friend who was handcuffed, beaten and given electric shocks in an attempt to know about her whereabouts.
Currently, she is living with her sister in NewYork. But she remains worried about her parents in Pakistan. She said they had become isolated with security forces interrogating anyone who dares to text them.