Oscar-Winning Film ‘Saving Face’ Exposes Acid Attacks in Pakistan

The Pakistani American Community Center (PACC-CA) hosted a screening of the Oscar winning Pakistani Documentary, “Saving Face” on March 4 in the San Francisco.

“Saving Face”, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge, is a film about acid violence on women in tribal Pakistan. The film has been awarded the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject), making its director, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Pakistan's first Oscar winner. 

Obaid-Chinoy commented to the Wall Street Journal that "The subject matter immediately appealed to me: Acid violence impacts women in southern Punjab and changes the lives of hundreds of women each year."

Due to its recent Oscar win, “Saving Face” has been getting it’s much deserved attention and respect. The film documents two women with similar situations: each having acid thrown on their faces by their husbands now hoping for legal justice and possibly corrective surgery to ease the pain of their damaged faces.

In the film, London-based Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, travels back and forth to Pakistan to perform reconstructive surgery on the two victims of acid violence. I had the chance yesterday to sit down with Dr. Jawad who presented after the screening and hosted a vibrant Q and A session. Dr. Jawad stated that this is just the beginning of such work and “there is a long road ahead of us” in regards to permanent improvement to the issue of acid violence.

“Saving Face” also broaches the subject of the under-reporting of acid violence due to cultural and structural inequalities towards women from Pakistani Muslim men, according to the BBC.

The film repeatedly featured the “Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan”, and stated that they had documented over 100 acid attacks a year in Pakistan “but estimates far more due to lack of reporting.”

The event was hugely successful with a nearly packed room. Not a dry eye was left after the screening which prompted a robust question and answer session with the main question, how can we help prevent this aggrieves crime from continuing?

CNN reported that perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The long term consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.

As discussed at the event as well, these attacks are most common in, but not exclusive to, Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other nearby countries. According to Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed, 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 70% are under 18 years of age.

The documentary’s website states, ‘Every year in Pakistan, at least 100 people are victimized by brutal acid attacks. The majority of these are women, and many more cases go unreported. With little or no access to reconstructive surgery, survivors are physically and emotionally scarred, while many reported assailants – typically a husband or someone close to the victim – are let go with minimal punishment from the state.”

Acid violence is a serious international problem. Acid Survivors International Trust stated: the victims of acid violence are overwhelmingly women and children, and attackers often target the head and face in order to maim, disfigure and blind. The act 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. Acid violence is a worldwide phenomenon that is not restricted to a particular race, religion or geographical location.

Action is now finally being taken to pass legislation to ensure that laws punish the perpetrators of acid attacks. The documentary briefly included an attempt in the Pakistani courts to pass legislation to give life sentences to convicted acid attackers.

But this is just the first steps to eradicate acid and burn crimes from Pakistan and hopefully the rest of the world. Each of us have a duty to do our part to help prevent these crimes from continuing.