Nicholas Kristof's column in today's New York Times, Terrorism That's Personal, delves into the practice of men, usually husbands, using acid to ruin a woman's appearance and life. He makes it clear that this is not an uncommon occurrence; nor is it a new practice.
Kristof cites statistics gathered by Shahnaz Bukhari, the founder of the Progressive Women’s Association. In 14 years, she has tallied 7,800 cases in the Islamabad area alone, of women who have been deliberately burned by fire, scalding, or acid. That is an average of nearly 560 women per year. Only 2% of these attacks have resulted in a conviction. That translates to 156 women--out of 7800--whose attackers have been charged, tried, and convicted.
Why is this number so low?
The short answer is, women are seen in this region as property, as chattel. Their men--fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, husbands, sons--are the overseers of their women, and have the right to adminster punishment as they see fit. Sometimes other women get into it, too--their are documented cases of mothers-in-law, especially in India, attacking their sons' wives--but it is primarily the domain of the men.
This leads society--including the courts--to place little importance on prosecuting a man for injuring, or even killing, a female in his family. He is generally considered well within his rights.
When a woman is seen as property, her only real worth is what she can provide to her husband, including dowry, sex, children. If she is left by her husband, whether divorced or abandoned; especially in a country where her movements are heavily restricted unless she has a male to escort her; her only chance for a "good life" involves marrying someone else. The chances of this happening are almost nil if her face has been disfigured.This graphic video shows the difficulty and horror these women face if they survive such an attack.
And what happens to the women who do survive?
The woman who is the focus of this article, Naeema Azar, was a successful real estate agent prior to being attacked by her ex-husband. The attack left her blind and terribly disfigured.
She cannot close her eyes or her lips. She refuses to eat in front of other people because food falls out of her mouth. She cannot work, and survives on the charity of friends, and support of the Progressive Women’s Association. She does not go out in public unless she is completely covered, because she doesn't want to horrify people. She is cared for by her 12 y.o. son.
The association is trying to raise funds for a surgery that could restore vision in one of her eyes. Her ex-husband has never been prosecuted; the association is also raising funds to hire a lawyer to pressure the government to find and prosecute him.
What can you do?
You can lobby your Congresspersons to vote for the Biden-Lugar International Violence Against Women Act. This act is designed to highlight such violence, and put pressure on foreign governments to take action.
More directly and immediately, you can provide financial support to the Progressive Women’s Association. This organization is working to fight all areas of violent crimes against women.
I am donating today. I urge you to do the same.