2014 — student award of excellence
“Whom do I believe? I have to come again and again to the hospital. The man I lived with for eight years gave me unforgettable pain every single day. He used to beat me whenever he wanted, even for a small mistake. Eleven years have passed since he threw acid on me and burned my body and my face, and I am still carrying the sores,” says Roushon, 32.
There are scores of new acid attack and burn victims arriving every day at the hospital. In addition to disfigurement of the face and body, some have permanent loss of eyesight; some will never be able to eat with their mouth. In most cases the victims are women, whose burn injuries are caused by their intimate partner, spouse, boyfriend or the person whom they refused to love.
Violence against women is a global phenomenon. In Bangladesh, reports of violence against women are on the rise. Oftentimes, it takes the form of acid attacks, which are estimated to occur every two days, the majority of sufferers being female. Violence against women is closely linked to the institute of marriage, whereby the woman is considered to be guilty for any family breakup or divorce and living alone is difficult. These views on marriage are deeply embedded in cultural and socio-economic practices. Violence against women is sanctioned by both society and the state, but in the name of culture, tradition and religious practices, women are usually forced to live with their abusive spouse to maintain social norms, as I did.
He said he loved me and I believed him, but straight after our wedding, my nightmare began. I suffered unimaginable pain and humiliation, yet I maintained a relationship with the person who tortured me both physically and mentally every day for two and a half years. I had to leave my college and friends and I felt like the living dead. I concealed this from my own family and tried to save my marriage. Nothing worked.
Eventually, I’d had enough and finally decided to file for divorce. I am one of the lucky ones. My family provided the support and help needed to escape an abusive relationship. Today I can think independently. Still, I can feel the pain of the thousands of women who are victims of violence. I can hear the cries of those in hospital beds after losing a limb, nursing stitches or being burned by acid. I can see the tears of those remaining silent. I can taste the blood dripping from their battered noses. The problem lies in our social fabric and economic order. Women need men and vice versa, but as long as women are considered to be inferior to men, there will always be gender inequality.
According to Acid Survival Foundation(ASF) in Bangladesh, from 1999 to 2011 there were 2539 acid attacks and among them 1084 were women. The ratio between male and female victims indicates the extent of violence and discrimination against women in our society.
I intend to work with women and girls who have survived an acid attack, and are trying to rebuild their lives despite carrying horrific mental and physical wounds. This is a profoundly personal undertaking and an important part of reflecting upon my past. I plan to travel to ten different districts of Bangladesh where groups of survivors have built support structures. I want to document their lives, their struggles, their sufferings and their resilience. The stories of these women will shed light on a very dark corner of human existence. They will give voice to individuals who’ve been silenced by their oppressors. They will tell the world that we need to campaign for women’s rights.