Posts Tagged ‘saving’

A different perspective…The National, Adnan Khan.

May 12th, 2012

The real miracle workers fighting, and healing, Pakistan’s acid attacks

Adnan Khan

Apr 21, 2012

While Saving Face, a documentary on doctors helping Pakistan’s acid attack victims, recently won an Oscar, Adnan Khan discovers a much better story, featuring legitimate heroes who, unlauded, work every day to enable the afflicted to return to society with confidence

It’s odd how the faint sound of sobbing rising up from the crumpled blanket seems to dominate the room. Considering the laughter that is otherwise the mainstay of the women living at the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), the tears feel out of place. Rukhsana, knitting a blanket for her newborn son; Nusrat Parveen, busy on the sewing machine; Mumtaz and her 7-year old son, Mozam, giggling over a game they have just invented – these should set the tone in their communal living space.

But it’s Naziran Bibi’s tears that overwhelm all else. “Please, sister,” Nusrat says to her suffering friend. “It will get better. You must be patient.”

The women at ASF are accustomed to this sort of thing. They’ve all been through it themselves: the shock of having their faces melted by acid, the hopelessness that comes from having to then face themselves in the mirror. It is often too much to bear. Naziran is, in this sense, perhaps luckier than some – her attacker managed to blind her completely. But it’s also in that darkness where she now finds herself that her loneliness is absolute.

This is perhaps the most difficult struggle victims of acid attacks face. In a single, cruel stroke, they are transformed into outcasts, their lives relegated to the margins, condemned to a perpetually cloistered existence, shunned by the people around them. It was this same loneliness that ultimately drove Fakhra Younus, a Pakistani acid attack survivor in Italy, to take her own life on March 17.

Her neighbour, Haji Ali Din, reportedly told the Italian media that he had seen Younus an hour before she jumped from her sixth-storey apartment. She was crying, he said, but he dismissed it as a “daily occurrence”.

The pain behind those tears cannot be trivialised simply because of their regularity. Quite the opposite, in fact: that Younus still cried every day after more than a decade (her attack happened in 2000) is a testament to the depth of her suffering. It was the kind of pain that required solace, and the kind of solace that only the company of those who understood her plight could bring.

In Pakistan, there is no shortage of women who are suffering the way Younus did. Their struggles were broadcast to millions around the world after the short documentary Saving Face was awarded an Oscar on February 26. The co-directors of that film, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge, along with the film’s main character, Dr Mohammad Jawad, became instant media darlings, credited with lifting the veil from one of Pakistan’s most gruesome realities.

But Younus’s death did something else that hasn’t been reported in the world’s media: it drove home the point that acid survivors require more than medical treatment to ensure their well-being; modern medicine can do only so much to make them whole again. More importantly, it’s the psychological damage they have experienced that will be their true lifelong burden.

In the years since Younus’s attack, much has changed in Pakistan to help ease the pain of acid survivors. Saving Face was a timely story insofar as it highlighted some of the work being done to help these women. It was also a heavily dramatised and misleading story, however, relying on old and tired clichés to draw in a western audience.

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Outreach Program On Acid Violence Starting With Youth And HEC…

April 16th, 2012
Myra Imran
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Islamabad: 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 panelists 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.

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News, Momentum For Gender Justice Through An Oscar

February 28th, 2012

Last updated: 37 mins ago

The women behind the Oscar

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, left, and Daniel Junge pose with their awards for best documentary short for “Saving Face” during the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. – AP Photo

KARACHI: Behind the glamour of Pakistan on the Academy Awards red carpet and the outpouring of excitement on television, Twitter and Facebook lies the bravery of the female subjects of Saving Face, who have to keep a low profile for their own security.

“Rukhsana says that if she has to bear the consequences [of the film], so be it,” says Bilquis, a staff member at the Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad, where the acid attack victims featured in co-director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar-winning documentary had sought refuge.

Both Rukhsana and Zakia, the two women attacked by their husbands who played central roles in the film along with plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad, denied requests to speak to the media for fear of further victimisation. Contrary to some news reports, their spouses were never prosecuted for this crime.

According to Bilquis, who has been deeply involved in the two cases, Zakia’s husband threw acid on her outside a court house during divorce proceedings while he was in police custody for other domestic violence, indicating possible support from law-enforcement. For both women, participation has been an act of extreme courage.

Zakia’s family knows about her role in the documentary but isn’t pleased about it, and her brothers insisted she leave the ASF. Rukhsana is living with her husband again after a still-troubled reconciliation, and he is not aware of her participation in the film.

But Bilquis communicates Rukhsana’s jubilant reaction to the Oscar win, the first Academy Award won by a Pakistani. “When she participated in this film she thought it would mainly be shown abroad. But even though it has now become big news and might be shown here, she is still thrilled about it. She says it was a form of justice, and now other sisters will get justice too.”

Sunday’s win in the short documentary category for the 40-minute Saving Face, co-directed by American filmmaker Daniel Junge, has come as unbelievable news for the staff of the ASF, which was featured in the documentary, and the acid attack victims it tries to help through free housing, surgery, and legal aid.

“It’s difficult to believe,” says ASF chairperson Valerie Khan, barely able to contain her excitement on the phone from Islamabad. “It’s so big that I haven’t realised it yet. It’s a symbolic achievement: a woman who has fought for women’s rights. And it concentrates on hope, celebrating Pakistani citizens building a fairer society for tomorrow.”

But both her and women’s rights activist Fauzia Saeed point out that more progress still needs to be made, despite the passage in December of an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code that criminalises acid attacks.

They explain that two further pieces of legislation are in the works, being pushed by the ASF, civil society organisations and the human rights ministry. The Acid Control Bill would regulate the sale and distribution of acid. And while acid throwing has already been criminalised, the third piece of legislation, the Acid and Burn Crimes Bill, goes beyond punishing perpetrators and calls for a number of other reforms needed to prevent attacks and help victims rebuild their lives. These include rehabilitation services, measures to ensure independent investigations and just trials, funding for victims, and a monitoring system.

Meanwhile, the focus on Monday was on celebration, and not just at the ASF. “It’s been completely incredible,” Ms Obaid-Chinoy’s mother said in an interview with Dawn about her 33-year-old daughter’s achievement. “It’s absolutely amazing, a dream come true. Even though she won an Emmy last year, winning an Oscar — I don’t think we saw that coming at such a young age.”

And the film’s director of photography, Asad Faruqi, told Dawn that the win had justified why he does what he does. “This is the only reason we make documentary films: to highlight the issues and get people’s stories out. When it’s recognised, it gives us the motivation to venture into areas where we didn’t think we could go.”

“We are happy and proud on several levels,” Ms Saeed added. “The award was won by a woman, it is a Pakistani film, and this is an important issue. I hope it will create the impetus for the comprehensive legislation that is badly needed.”

Meanwhile, Ms Khan points to the crucial role that Rukhsana and Zakia have played. “They were instrumental to getting the criminalisation bill passed, because they were willing to speak up,” she says. “They were doing so before the film, and Saving Face has highlighted their work further. They are true agents of change.”