Society fails to see what survivors go through after acid attacks: Sharmeen
To build public opinion against acid crimes, the Oscar-winning documentary ‘Saving the Face’ by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy will be released soon in Pakistan with translation in national and regional languages.
The information to this effect was shared during a panel discussion on ‘Acid attack and its effect on society.’ The discussion, attended by an audience of more than 150 university students and officials from across Pakistan, was sponsored jointly by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Aurat Foundation, and the Acid Survivors Foundation with the US support. Dr. Marilyn Wyatt, wife of US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, moderated the event.
The panel included Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Professor Hamid Hassan, a doctor who heads the burn unit at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital in Rawalpindi, Dr. Khadija Tahir, a psychotherapist that treats acid survivors, Barrister Naveed Muzaffar Khan, a lawyer who defends victims of acid attacks, and Executive Director of Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) Valerie Khan and Aurat Foundation representative and activist Samina Naz. HEC Chairman Dr. Javaid Laghari also spoke on the occasion.
The discussants called for an end to acid attacks and other violence against women and urged all sections of society to come forward and demand strong legislation against the crime and its effective implementation. They said that to bring the change, the whole nation has to reject the acid crimes.
Sharing statistics, Executive Director Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) Valerie Khan said that around 200 such attacks occur annually in the country with most of them reported in southern Punjab and northern Sindh. She said that 70 per cent of acid crime victims are women whereas 30 per cent are men and boys. “In 60 per cent of cases, the reason is domestic dispute,” she said.
Applauding the efforts of the Pakistani legislature to pass acid attack legislation, Dr. Marilyn Wyatt asked the attendees to work to end gender-based violence, specifically acid attacks. She said that the main objective of the event is to raise awareness among university students about the devastating effects of acid attacks and acid crimes on Pakistani society.
“Pakistan’s youth demographic represents 60 per cent of the nation’s citizenry, it is important that you sensitise yourself to this important issue so that your mothers, sisters, and daughters do not suffer from this gruesome crime,” she said.
Dr. Wyatt said that acid victims face acute physical and psychological sufferings; they lose their identity and are deprived of their relationships and friendships. “It is our responsibility to help these victims and play our role in the implementation of the legislation against the hideous crime.”
Sharmeen said that her achievement shows the power of telling story. “The stories of acid crime make headlines in the media but we actually fail to see what these victims have to go through once they survive the attack.” Giving credit to the acid crime survivors, she said that she was lucky to find the strong voices that were brave enough to break the silence. She stressed on the need for educating women about the existence of law against acid crime. “We need to take them out of the mindset that they are responsible for what happened to them,” she said.
Responding to a question asked by a university student regarding the fact that the documentary on acid victims has given Pakistan another bad headline in international media, Sharmeen said that the headline was always positive for Pakistan and was about a Muslim woman receiving the highest documentary-making award. “It has given the image of a country that has the courage to face and solve its problems,” she said. Her answer received appreciation from the young crowd, who expressed their consent with clapping.
About a suggestion of working together with religious leaders, she said that Islamic Health in UK has been working together with the institution of mosques where they discuss acid crime with the community. “The idea is to repeat the same in Pakistan.” She said that the documentary will be released in Pakistan soon and the priority is to share it with the rural population. She stressed the need of more such interactions in the universities. “Nothing can change without the involvement of youth,” she opined. Highlighting legal aspects, Barrister Naveed Muzaffar Khan said that Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011 was originally an amendment in Pakistan Penal Code, which redefined acid crime in the law and enhanced the punishment. “It was the first step. The next step is to bring Acid and Burn Crime Legislation that is a comprehensive legislation,” he said while adding that to end the crime, it is vital to control the easy availability of concentrated acid.