Acid burning - A look that lasts
by Lucy Ireland
Across the world, acid attacks are being used as a form of personal revenge against women. It's a nasty trend, but trends can and do change...
Acid burning (predominantly of women) is far too common on a worldwide scale. In South Asia, acid attacks have been used for refusal of sexual advances and proposals of marriage. In Cambodia it has been reported that many attacks were carried out by wives against their husband's lovers. Men have attacked women for dishonouring their family, even for upsetting the mother in law or being immodestly dressed.
Victims of this violent assault are burned, their skin tissue being damaged and peeling away like paper and often exposing and dissolving the bones. Consequences of these attacks include blindness and scarring.
In poverty stricken areas there are often delays in finding proper medical assistance, which can cause the loss of a victim’s appearance and a dramatic reduction in the quality of their life. There is a high survival rate amongst victims who are usually faced with physical challenges, disfigurements and health issues. They also suffer severe psychological challenges which require in depth treatment from psychologists at every stage of recovery.
Depression and anxiety are common amongst all patients with large burn injuries; however, for victims with acid injuries the physical scarring can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment, resulting in the survivor living a life in hiding due to fear of prejudice and stigma from their community. Many survivors continue to have vivid memories of the incident which cause great levels of distress, especially when they know their attackers are free to attack again. When women feel removed from society they struggle to retain their independence as they can't earn money to keep their home and family afloat.
Acid burning is also used by extremists to oppress women who exercise their basic rights to education, to choose their own partners or other actions that their community deem inappropriate. Increasingly, men have begun attacking their wives for such minor offenses as not having dinner ready or not having sex. This is believed to be attributed to the fact that women are gaining independence in cultures where they were formerly repressed.
Under the Qisas law of Pakistan, the perpetrator may suffer the same fate as the victim, and may be punished by having drops of acid placed in his eyes. This law is rarely enforced and perhaps not the most civilized way of seeking justice. In 2002, Bangladesh introduced the death penalty for throwing acid and laws strictly controlling the sales of acids.
Since the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan government have made inroads into equality, creating better access for girls to education, a previously illegal pursuit for any woman. While the more conservative parents still choose to keep their daughters at home, the swift action taken by police after the acid attack of a group of 15 girls walking to school last November proves there are people who will work for these freedoms. Several of the girls who were sprayed with battery acid by two men on a motorcycle, suffered burning to their faces, and despite their time spent recovering in hospital they were all keen to continue their education. Within two weeks the Afghan police had arrested 10 men who confessed to the act of violence and on the promise of justice the girls were determined to continue living their lives rather than being forced back into an invisible role in society.
There is hope. There is always hope. This is a social and political trend, and social and political trends change within our lifetimes. Let's hope this one comes to an end.
Sign a petition for the International Violence Against Women Act with Amnesty International USA.
Learn more about bride burning on Wikipedia. In Pakistan, women including Shahnaz Bukhari, the chief coordinator of the Progressive Women’s Association, have been campaigning for protective legislation, women’s shelters and hospitals with specialized burn wards.