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Victims now have ‘global voice’, says Sharmeen

NEW YORK – The Oscar Award to Pakistani documentary ‘Saving Face’ has given the suffering acid attack-victims ‘a global voice’ as the film director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy told a cheering crowd at Asia Society where it was screened on Monday night. Speaking on the occasion, she said she expected more women, who have suffered such attacks, to come forward and seek the legal course to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.

‘The reaction in Pakistan has been tremendous because there is such little good news that ever comes out of Pakistan that it is lovely to have a nation unite behind something so big’, she said of the 40-minute film focusing on the work of Pakistani-British plastic surgeon Dr. Muhammad Jawad performed reconstructive surgery on women who have been victims of acid throwing — mostly by their husbands.

‘It is an incredible feeling to bring a story out that empowers Pakistanis to think that they can solve their own country’s problems’, she said of ‘Saving Face’, which also showcases the historic bill passed by Pakistan’s Parliament proposing strict punishment for perpetrators of the crime. The film, which brought glory to Pakistan, is set to premier in the US on March 8th on HBO. With her co-director, Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy answered questions from members of the audience after the screening of the film.

Most of them highly praised the initiative to spotlight violence against women, an issue not confined to Pakistan but a worldwide problem. The crowd was drawn from all sections of American life. ‘I made Saving Face so that it could be used as an educational tool to spread awareness and promote dialogue’, she said. ‘Zakia and Rukhsana, the two main characters in the film are inspiring women who have shown grace and bravery when faced with unimaginable circumstances’.

At the same time Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said while women wanted to share their stories, they did not want to be in the media too much as that would make it ‘difficult for them to lead their lives in Pakistan’. ‘We had considered bringing Rukhsana and Zakia to the Oscars but the women do not feel comfortable getting so much exposure’, Chinoy said. Junge said that the documentary would be broadcast in the US, UK before it is rolled out globally.

‘Pakistan is our most important audience but we need to be very careful there. We first need to be assured of all the safety of the people and that is what we are working on now, before we can release the film there’, he said. Ms Chinoy said Zakia, whose husband has been sentenced to double life imprisonment for throwing acid on her, still has ‘anxiety’. Her husband has appealed against the verdict and the fear of retribution is always there for the victims.

Junge said initially it was difficult for the women to the cameras into their lives and be open about their ordeal.

‘But the women wanted to be the voice that tells people what they go through on a daily basis’. Chinoy Also said is launching an outreach programme in Pakistan that seeks to work with victims in countries where acid attacks are rampant, in partnership with Pakistan’s Acid Survivors Foundation.

The foundation is working with survivors of acid attacks and helping them rehabilitate and seek medical treatment.

Ms Chinoy is also getting support from surgeons across the globe who have pledged support to work with the victims. She stated that the movie is about hope as much as it is about despair. The attacks happen mostly in Seraiki belt in southern Punjab where there is high illiteracy and unemployment, she said.

Chinoy explained that acid is readily and easily available in the region as it is used for cleaning cotton.

She intends to work with groups in Pakistan to get a law passed in Parliament that regulates the sale of acid.

Chinoy feels education is the key to help eradicate such social menace.

‘I strongly believe that education can solve all of the women`s problems in Pakistan’, she said ,adding, that victims are forced to stay with their attackers, who are mostly husbands and in-laws, since they are illiterate and cannot fend for themselves.

This emboldens the perpetrators who feel they will not be held accountable for their actions, she added.

‘This problem can only be eradicated if there are concerted efforts at all levels of society. Our message is that these women should not give up on their dreams, must win this fight’, Chinoy said.

The Nation