“Saving Face” May be a Saving Grace for Women Victims of Acid Attacks

Update: This film won the Oscar for its category. Congratulations to those involved in its creation!

For the first time in the history of the Academy Awards a Pakistani filmmaker has been nominated for an Oscar. The 2012 Oscar’s “Best Documentary Short” category features a 40 minute short film by journalist and investigative filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Image via India Today.

Ms. Chinoy is known for making hard-hitting documentaries such as Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret and Pakistan: The Taliban Generation. This year, her Oscar-contending film is a documentary, titled Saving Face, which tells the stories of two female survivors of acid attacks.

The women are 39-year-old Zakia and 25-year-old Rukhsana. Zakia’s husband threw acid on her after she filed for divorce, and Rukhsana’s husband and in-laws threw acid and gasoline on her and then set her on fire, simply because her husband didn’t want to hear her speak anymore. Despite the trauma they have faced, the women enlist the help of the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) in Islamabad, as well as sympathetic policymakers, in an attempt to bring their assailants to justice by pushing the Pakistani government to enact new legislation that imposes stricter sentencing of perpetrators of acid attacks.

The film also follows Dr. Muhammad Jawad, a Pakistani-Born, London-based plastic surgeon, as he journeys back to Pakistan to perform reconstructive surgery on these two women. Dr. Mohammad Jawad returns to his home country to volunteer his skills and assist victims of what he calls his society’s “disease.”

Acid burn attacks, prevalent in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, are just what they sound like. The victims, usually women, are doused or sprayed in the face with acid, resulting in permanent physical and emotional injury. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, which aims to eradicate the practice in Bangladesh, acid attacks are a gender specific crime resulting primarily from disputes regarding dowries, land, property, money, marriage, and sex. The organization estimates that from January to October of 2010, in Bangladesh alone, there were 118 victims of acid violence. According to ASF statistics, victims tend to be females from 25 to 34 years old, although there are some cases of male and children victims. [Read more...]