Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Acid violence is the heinous act of burning, deforming and destructing the face and other parts of the body by using acid, an attack so brutal that it often causes disabilities. Acid causes the skin tissue to melt, often exposing and dissolving the bones underneath. As the perpetrators often target the face, many survivors lose one or both of their eyes. Due to disfigurement and disability, most of the survivors stop their education or work, immediately causing an end to normal life as they know it. In addition to the physical damage, there are long-term psychological impacts on the survivor and immediate family, which can last for the rest of their lives. Survivors often face social isolation which further damages their self-esteem and socio-economic status. Often the perpetrators are someone close to the victims and therefore many victims are unable to return to their families. Some survivors feel compelled to return because they have no other income source. Most of the victims belong to a poor socio-economic class, therefore, cannot afford the costly and time consuming treatments. They become completely dependent on their husbands or families and are considered as burdens.
The number of acid attacks increased steadily from approximately a dozen each year in the 70’s to about 50 per year in the mid-1990s. Beginning in the late 1990s, the number went up to 250 per year. 2002 saw the highest number of attacks to date (490 incidents were recorded that year). The causes of many acid attacks are deeply rooted in the patriarchal social structure that exists in Bangladesh. Major causes behind these attacks are marital disputes, the refusal of marriage proposals and sexual advances, dowry disputes, and land disputes. Women are often the direct target but even children are attacked due to a family dispute or in an act of vengeance. With no acid control law before 2002, a cup of acid, usually sulfuric acid poured from any car battery or purchased from auto repair shops, was both an available and cheap weapon, costing merely a few cents.
In 1999, when ASF started, only a few people were aware of this problem and the necessary medical and legal infrastructure to support acid victims did not exist. Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), the biggest public health facility in Bangladesh, was the only hospital specialized in treating burn injuries, though it only had a mere 8-bed burn ward. In a country of 154 million people, that burn unit could not accommodate the number of general burn patients, let alone acid victims. The legal scenario was even worse as law enforcement officials considered acid attacks as a personal dispute between the victim and the perpetrator and did not want to interfere. Therefore, many acid victims became completely helpless without any support and many survivors developed post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal tendencies. Due to a lack of official data, it is difficult to tell how many acid attacks led to fatal consequences.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In 1999, the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) was formed by a group of women's rights' activists with a vision to reduce and eventually eliminate acid attacks, as well as to ensure that acid survivors are able to live with dignity in society. Monira joined ASF as its first employee (deputy director) to develop services to support acid victims. ASF recognized that appropriate treatment can save a victim’s life, but if they are not properly reintegrated into society, which requires mass awareness and confidence building, the after effects are debilitating. ASF established a nationwide infrastructure with other NGOs, hospitals and media to provide medical, psychological, social, legal and financial support, so that survivors can lead their lives independently and productively. The unique combination of support services empowers 'victims' to become 'survivors' and ultimately, 'social advocates.' Thus, ASF emerged as a one-stop solution provider for acid survivors. In the year 2002, Monira took over the leadership role of ASF from Dr John Morrison the Founding Executive Director of ASF and became the second Executive Director of ASF. Under her leadership, ASF has brought significant change to Bangladesh, as the number of acid attacks has been declining since 2002.
Monira’s strategy enabled the survivors to access services and experience change on a systemic level. ASF first began with the establishment of an emergency support service including 24 hours telephone hotline, notification and referral services, arrange appropriate treatment and then extended long term rehabilitation and reintegration of the survivors into mainstream society by transforming ‘victims’ into ‘social advocates’ through developing public –private partnership for need based services for the individual survivors and their family and prevention of acid attacks by both reforming policy and laws, and educating and challenging the general public’s attitude about acid attacks. Now acid attack cases are responded to within 24 hours by authorities and victims are administered proper treatment within 48 hours. The first aid campaign across the country and collaboration with district level hospitals gave ASF nationwide coverage and now victims no longer have to wait to get best available treatment, an extremely important advantage when every second matters in terms of saving life and vital organs. This efficient system has played a critical role in the saving of over 3,000 lives in the past 14 years. Following ASF’s success, activists in Pakistan and Cambodia have been successful in enacting similar law to combat acid violence in their own country and India, Nepal and Uganda are advocating for acid control laws to be introduced. Now ASF has become a global pioneer in combating acid violence and as a result, Bangladesh is the international leader in this field.