By Y. G.
“The crime is about trying to destroy someone’s identity” – Mohammad Jawad, plastic surgeon working with acid attack survivors in South Asia.
Defining Violence Against Women
According to the UN, violence against women is the most systematic and prevalent form of human rights violations. Patriarchal social structures allow for these crimes to take place with impunity. The UN defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (General Assembly Resolution 48/104 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993).
The psychology of acid attacks:
- Experts believe acid attacks are a form of gender-based violence responding to rejections to marriage proposals and/or sexual advances.
- According to Acid Survivors’ Trust International, acid attacks are a “hidden form of violence against women and children.”
- Acid attacks are intended to immediately disfigure the victim and deter future relationships.
Facts and Figures:
- 1,500 cases are recorded around the world every year.
- Women and girls are the victims in 75-80% of cases of acid violence.
- Of the female victims, about 30% are under 18.
- In 2014 alone, 309 acid attacks were registered in India, however hundreds of attacks go unreported.
- In Pakistan up to 400 women experience attacks every year, most are committed by the victim’s husband and in-laws.
- 80 % of acid attacks are perpetrated by men, but in cases of women attackers, the motivations are similar.
- 628 cases have been recorded in Colombia, women’s rights activists believe the true toll may be far higher.
- 87% of Colombia’s acid attack victims are women, while 90% of perpetrators are men.
Names, Faces and Stories
A picture is worth a thousand words…
A comprehensive evaluation of acid violence takes into consideration the fact that attacks take place around the world, during ordinary activities.
Have you ever studied abroad or spent a summer doing research and/or volunteer work in another country?
While teaching English to underprivileged children in Zanzibar, 19 year-old Katie Gee was attacked by a stranger who threw acid from jerry can. “As the acid began to eat away at her skin, she begged one onlooker to shoot her because the pain was so unbearable” (The Telegraph, 2014).
Have you ever had a falling out with a friend?
Naomi Oni’s perpetrator was a secondary school friend disguised in a veil retaliating because Naomi once called her ugly.
Should you ever have to second-guess visiting your sister?
Reshma Quereshi was visiting her sister in Allahabad, India when her sister’s estranged husband doused her in concentrated sulfuric acid.
Should you ever have to worry about going to class?
Naila was attacked by her schoolteacher in Pakistan, when she rejected his sexual advances at a school celebration.
Have you ever answered a knock on your door?
Natalia Ponce de Leon, had a liter of sulfuric acid thrown over her face by a man who she had never even spoken to while visiting her mother in Bogota.
While pregnant and holding her four year old daughter, Namale Allen had acid thrown over her face and chest.
Have you ever ended a romantic relationship?
Katie Piper‘s abusive ex-boyfriend hired a man to throw sulphuric aid on her face.
Fakhra Younus‘s husband, a member of a Pakistani politically elite family, threw acid on her face while she slept. Prior to marriage, she had worked as a prostitute, which is believed to be one of the reason why the perpetrator has not faced charges.
Fakhra’s story was featured in the award-winning documentary “Saving Face”, unfortunately she succumbed to her emotional wounds and committed suicide in 2012.
Legislation Against Acid Violence
- In 2013 the Indian Penal Code was amended with the passing of ‘The CRIMINAL Law” which offers victims: (1) compensation payable by the state, (2) free emergency medical care and (3) the right of private defence of the body.
- In 2002, the Bangladeshi parliament enacted laws that criminalized the unlicensed production, storage, sale, and use of acid, while establishing sentences ranging from 3-10 years.
- In 2016 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a new law setting a 12 year minimum sentence to anyone using any kind of “chemical agent” to physically harm another person. If the victim is permanently disfigured, the sentence will be up to 50 years.
Organizing Around Acid Violence Against Women
Though legislation directly addressing acid violence is a step in the right direction, its simply not enough. The response to acid attacks is primarily lead by principled issue networks operating transnationally. Women’s rights organizations, healthcare providers and grassroots movements have introduced this issue to the international consciousness and have mobilized to support the survivors and their families.
In addition to physical trauma, victims of acid violence attacks are faced with psychological and economic challenges. Survivors are often ostracized and become isolated, which further damages their self esteem. Beginning the recovery period and due to permanent physical damage, many victims refrain from resuming their education or trade and become economically vulnerable. “Many female acid victims [are unable to lead] independent lives resulting in a situation of vulnerability and dependency. In this scenario, women’s potential remains unrealized and their contribution that could be directed to the betterment of society is underutilized” (Acid Survivors Foundation).
How to Get Involved
Initiating conversations about acid attacks brings into proximity and issue that is unfathomable to most of us, awareness is the first step to change.
- Acid Survivors Foundation. Web.
- Acid Survivors Trust International. Web.
- “Mary Konye Guilty of Acid Attack on Friend Naomi Oni.” BBC.com. 23 Jan. 2014. Web.
- Castella, Tom De. “How Many Acid Attacks Are There?” BBC News Magazine. 9 Aug. 2013. Web.
- Gardner, Bill. “Zanzibar Acid Attack Victim Tells of Battle to Overcome Injuries after Losing Ear.” The Telegraph. 4 May 2014. Web.
- Hoh, Wong Kim. “Singapore to Help Uganda Acid Attack Victim.” The Strait Times. 14 Aug. 2015. Web.
- “India Gender Violence: Four Sisters Severely Burnt in Acid Attack.” International Business Times. 3 Apr. 2013. Web.
- Joo, Ji Hyun. “Acid Attack Victim Reshma Quereshi Makes Beauty Tutorial With Meaning.” Franchise Herald. 11 Sept. 2015. Web.
- Malm, Sara, and Imogen Caldewood. “Colombian Acid Attack Victim Who Had Her Face Burned off by Obsessive Stalker Makes First Public Appearance without a Mask as New Law Is Named after Her. Daily Mail. 19 Jan. 2016. Web.
- “Our Demands.” Stop Acid Attacks. Web.
- “Acid Attack Victim Regains Confidence with Corrective Surgery.” The Star. 30 Jan. 2015. Web.
- “Defining Violence against Women and Girls.” United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Web.
- “Tackling Violence against Women in Pakistan.” Gov.uk. Department of Development, 5 Dec. 2013. Web.