This was a very graphic and disturbing presentation. Panelists included the founder and workers of the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) as well as a young woman who was a victim of an acid attack.
What is acid violence?
It is the deliberate use of acid to attack another human being. The victims are overwhelmingly women and children. Attackers often target the head and face in order to maim, disfigure and blind. Acid violence rarely kills but causes severe physical, psychological and social scarring, and victims are often left with no legal recourse, limited access to medical or psychological assistance, and without the means to support themselves.
The presentation included films depicting graphic images of women and children who were victims of acid violence; and to demonstrate the work of ASTI.
ASTI is the only organization in the world to end acid violence at the international level. ASTI also works directly with victims by providing 3 levels of service.
- A surgical team of volunteer doctors who perform reconstructive surgeries and train other doctors;
- A burn team to support victims after surgery and to teach victims how to treat the burns; and
- A management team to deal with medical issues, governance and fund raising.
ASTI is working towards a fourth (psychological) team to deal with the emotional and psychological effects of acid violence.
The panel also included Fozilatun Nessa, an acid attack survivor from Bangladesh. Amazingly, she did not speak from a perspective of hatred or of self pity. Instead, she spoke of the need to work towards the elimination of acid violence and how ASTI had helped her rehabilitate both cosmetically and socially. The attack on Fozilatun at age 16, was in retaliation for turning down a marriage proposal. She had wanted to continue her education. Even after cornea transplant and repeated reconstructive surgeries, the physical scars are still evident on this young woman.
The attack affected Fozilatun in many ways, which she summed up in one sentence, "not only my face but my dreams were shattered into millions of pieces,"
This a gender issue! Often a crime of honor, it is an example of inequality. Common reasons for acid attacks include:
- Male honor
- Family and marriage related issues
- Land disputes
- Dowry related
In 1999, ASTI set up in Bangladesh, where it is estimated an acid attack occurred every two days. Acid victims groups formed because of women leaders in the country. Men worked with them as well. In fact, the entire national cricket team publicly denounced acid violence and supported its ending. The work of ASTI and others who have been vocal in speaking out against acid violence has resulted in legislation, criminalization and in heightening awareness of this violent act. Bangladesh became a role model for other countries with the passing of the Acid Act and the Acid Control Act in 2002.
Acid violence occurs in many countries. ASTI is working to eradicate acid violence globally. This will entail:
- systemic and structural changes
- changes to policies and laws
- making this a global issue.
The goal of ASTI is to eradicate acid violence. They have already proven that education and global public support have an impact on achieving this goal. You too can help by raising awareness and calling for an end to acid violence.
Carol Furlong is President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE/NUPGE)