(HRCP), between 150 and 400 cases of acid attacks are reported in Pakistan every year. The noted lawyer and human rights activist Zia Awan says until there is political will to curb these acid attacks, perpetrators will continue to get away with it. “All sorts of laws exist to punish such people but implementation is missing,” she says. Misbah, who has been in business for 35 years with 42 branches countrywide, got involved when she was about to leave her head office in Lahore one evening in 2003 and a girl clad in a black burqa entered. “She asked me to hear her and I asked her to come back the next day.” Instead the girl took off the veil that covered the face. “In front of me was a faceless person. Her eyes and nose were gone and her neck and face were stuck together,” she says with tears in her eyes. Misbah says the girl thought because she was a beautician, she could fix her face. “I told her it was not my job and that she should go to a doctor. But she shot back, ‘I cannot afford to go to a doctor’.” Later, Misbah did get in touch with doctors to ask if they could help the young woman and that was the beginning of her foundation. Then she placed an ad in a local newspaper, asking victims of acid attacks or kerosene oil burns to visit her. Two weeks later, 42 girls assembled in her office, most of them acid attack victims with only a few of them suffering from accidental burns. It was only then that she realised how common acids attacks are in the country. She officially registered her NGO in 2005 with the intention of helping all acid attack or kerosene oil burns
victims by giving them a job in one of her beauty salons and enlisting the help of local and foreign doctors to offer them plastic surgery. Typically, she says each victim undergoes 30 to 40 surgeries. “We have even received victims with 20-year-old burns,” she says. The cost of each surgery starts from about $500, which is covered by DSF and gives the women rehabilitation, training or education, depending on their needs. “We believe in raising awareness about the problem among the local community,” says Misbah. “Pakistan still has people who think bringing publicity to these issues will bring a bad name to the country but I am glad there are many people who know about DSF and the work we are doing.” Pakistan’s former minister of interior, Rehman Malik, has also been vocal about the need to raise awareness, especially in the country’s media. He says: “These acts are neither permitted by religion nor laws under the constitution of Pakistan.” Misbah thinks female empowerment is key. “Girls need to be educated. Only then will they be able to understand their rights and which laws are there for their support.” She points out that out of all of the women who have come to DSF, only six of them have taken their perpetrators to court. “Due to familial and societal pressure, women often end up forgiving the criminals.” Her future plans include opening a shelter for women who have been subject to acid attacks and feel they have nowhere else to go.
“Pakistan still has people who think bringing publicity to these issues will bring a bad name to the country”
2016 MAY / JUNE