A new year dawns differently for everyone, depending on where it finds them. And for some, there is no dawn at all.
A new page on the calendar, alas and alack, doesn’t do a thing to staunch the flow of horrifying news streaming up from those dark recesses of our world where men commit acts of violence against women so odious they’ll steal your breath.
When I first read about the acid attacks perpetrated on women in certain cultures and countries, when I first understood the brutality that defines them, the viciousness that underlies them, the devastation that results from them, I was floored.
While the efforts of this UK-based not-for-profit—established to provide survivors with financial, medical and administrative support through a network of Acid Survivors Foundations—have resulted in considerable progress, the news out of ASTI continues to shock. Acid Survivors Foundations in Uganda, Pakistan, Cambodia and Bangladesh each treated more than 100 survivors in the last year alone.
Women have been victims of acid attacks in these dark parts of the world for decades. Activists cite jealousy, revenge, domestic squabbles and business disputes as common motives.
Victims are scarred for life. The physical effects of nitric or sulfuric acid are catastrophic. With alarming speed, this toxic cocktail eats through skin and even bone. Often, victims suffer permanent blindness and lose the use of their hands for having reflexively brought them to their faces. Their ability to find a mate, hold down a job or enjoy any kind of normal life is snatched away with this single, rage-filled act.
The psychological scars are much harder to quantify. Isolation and ostracism—from ashamed family and community members—are typical. Suicide is the sad last resort for many of these women.
And it gets worse. Perpetrators of this dreadful crime too often justify it as a means of preserving their honour—and (a patriarchal, feudal, conservative) society tacitly acknowledges its validity with wrist slaps and nominal fines.
In Pakistan, a country without a domestic violence law, the Acid Survivors Foundation recorded 48 cases of acid attacks in 2009 (to say nothing of the countless more that likely went unreported). A band of female parliamentarians there has submitted a bill—the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2009—to the National Assembly Secretariat in pursuit of stern action against the architects of these attacks.
They also call for measures to regulate the sale of acid, often readily available and cheap in countries where it’s used to process cotton or as a key ingredient in car batteries. Indians use concentrated acid to sterilize their kitchens and bathrooms, just as we use bleach. Repeated calls for its sale to be regulated have been ignored by the government.
All of this takes place against a backdrop that is pitifully witness to a continued stream of assaults. The December 17, 2009, issue of The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia’s “newspaper of record,” reported an attack on a 16-year-old girl who had half a litre of acid poured over her, and 30 people were injured in an acid attack on a busy street in Hong Kong last weekend.
Happy New Year? Let’s hope so.