The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) predicts that 150 acid attacks occur in Pakistan each year, with many more going unreported. This is a disturbing practice of throwing battery acid onto someone, 74 percent of the time a woman, with the attempt of killing them or at the very least leaving them with severe skin deformities. The reasoning behind these heinous attacks is even more disturbing. Frequently, they occur because a woman wants a divorce from an abusive husband and he seeks to bring shame upon her for taking action against him. Steps are being taken to improve laws and prosecution for these crimes yet acid attacks continue to be on the rise.
In 2012, directors Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy sought to bring global attention to acid attacks and the women who are left to live with the consequences with their documentary, Saving Face. Earning an Academy Award, the documentary reveals the struggles that these women face after the attacks and the lack of options they face in confronting their attacker. While some lawyers agree to represent these victims for free, the majority of legal representation is difficult to pay for in a country without many employment opportunities for women and victims are often forced to live with their assailants due to financial constraints.
There are also doctors, like Dr. Mohhammad Jawad, who returned to his home country to try and alleviate the painful physical scars left from acid attacks. There is a stigma and a sense of shame for women who are victims of acid attacks. It is assumed that they deserved the attack by disobeying their husbands or bringing shame upon their families. With the free surgeries offered by Dr. Jawad and others, women can integrate themselves back into the community and regain the confidence that they lost after the attack.
Lawmakers, both male and female, are trying to bring more attention to acid attacks and deter possible assailants with more stringent consequences. Now, if proven guilty, the perpetrator of an acid attack can face life in prison, a vast improvement over the sentences of the past. Zakia, a 39-year-old woman featured in Saving Face, was attacked by her husband who is now facing two life sentences for the assault.
Progress is being made but no law is going to eradicate acid attacks unless the cultural norms of Pakistan shift. As long as men and women still believe that women are subservient to men and that violence is an acceptable response to disagreement, women are still going to face these vicious attacks. Victims like Zakia, who publicly stand up for women and seek justice, are critical to the abolition of acid attacks. If survivors continue to prosecute their attackers and educate the next generation about gender-based violence, there is a chance that acid attacks will become a shameful thing of the past.
Read the incredible story of Bushra, a two-time acid attack survivor from Pakistan. With the help of the Acid Survivors Trust International, Bushra has received the physical and occupational treatment she needs.
Bushra, from Lodhran in Punjabsuffered two brutal acid attacks in 2003 when she was only 13 years old.
She was the youngest of her siblings and her father was a labourer living on daily wages. She was attacked by Javed, who lived in her neighbourhood and frequently harassed her about marriage. Upon the refusal of the marriage proposal by Bushra and her family, Javed threw acid on Bushra’s face, which damaged her right eye and the right side of her face. She was treated at different local hospitals near her village after which her eyesight returned. Her family reported the case to the village elders and the boy was reprimanded. The following year he attacked her again and this time Bushra’s right eye was badly damaged and the right side of her face was completely burnt. She was taken to the nearest hospital by her parents for medical treatment.
Bushra underwent various medical treatments but did not receive the surgery she needed to effectively treat her burns until she was referred to Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) in January 2008 by the field officer of the organisation. Bushra received an intensive programme of medical treatment which included reconstructive surgeries, laser treatments, physiotherapy and psychotherapy. This treatment not only helped her burns to heal but also enabled Bushra to feel more stable and confident. Initially she was very preoccupied with the way she looked after the attack, but with time she started taking interest in the daily activities of life again.
Bushra started performing all her daily chores independently both at the Nursing Care and Rehabilitation Unit (NCRU) of ASF and at her house back in her home village, and can cook, clean, wash dishes and iron clothes without help or supervision. She also began interacting with other acid burn survivors receiving treatment at the NCRU which gave her the hope she needed to rebuild her life, and encouraged her to be more open and interactive about her feelings. She has made a number of friends at the NCRU and also actively participates in psychological counselling of other acid burn survivors wherever required.
Under ASF’s socio-economic rehabilitation program Bushra has also enrolled in a three month’s Cutting & Stitching Course at the Pakistan Air Force Wives Association (PAFWA), where she learnt the basics of stitching and she plans to utilize these skills in future by making clothes for women and children of her village. She is also interested in embroidery but because her right eye has been adversely affected by acid she finds difficulty in concentrating for a longer period of time.
After a year of staying at ASF, Bushra has become more ambitious and wants to complete her studies. She also wants to support her family back home as her father and brother are the only breadwinners and she would like to contribute to the daily household expenditure. She has also overcome her fear of meeting new people and eagerly participated in the tour to Bangladesh, where she interacted with acid burn survivors from across the subcontinent at the first international Acid Survivors Conference, after ASTI arranged for staff and survivors from all five partner countries to attend.
After this tour she also consented to be a part of ASF-B’s documentary on Acid Violence Awareness, to be a source of hope for other acid victims and to show how an acid violence survivor can come to terms with their attack and evolve into someone stronger, more compassionate and determined.