Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Story Behind Saving Face

The problem of acid violence is one that continues to plague not only the developing world but also much of the Europe and South America. Acid violence by its very nature is a premeditated act - and whilst it rarely kills, it is used in most cases with the intention to permanently harm and disfigure its victims. It is an act that causes not only severe physical damage, but long-term psychological and social scarring. Globally, the victims of acid violence are most often women - however in much of the developing world, the victims are often left with little to no legal recourse or psychological rehabilitation. 

Five years ago, the documentary Saving Face exposed its global audience to the this menace that is often hidden away from public view. The documentary sensitively explores not only the hardships, but the resilience of the victims. It significantly highlights the destructive ways in which Pakistan’s patriarchal nature can manifest. The reception of the documentary, with it being awarded Pakistan's first Oscar to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and the international narrative that has since emerged, has helped not only empower the victims of acid violence, but has also impacted legislation and policy surrounding acid violence.

Dr. Mohammad Ali Jawad began performing surgery on victims of acid violence first in London, which shows significantly that this is not a problem confined to the Global South.

In 2008, Katie Piper, a young British model, was attacked with acid on the streets of London. In her treatment, Dr. Jawad pioneered the first successful one-stage facial reconstruction. Katie's incredible resilience and the optimism resulting from her treatment encouraged her to share her story in the hope of empowering other victims. The resulting Channel 4 documentary 'Katie: My Beautiful Face' was aired in 2009 - receiving a nomination in 2010 for BAFTA's Best Documentary. Katie has since inspired millions through her best-selling autobiography, regular journalism and continued television appearances. The Katie Piper Foundation was also launched offering support for victims of acid violence, where Dr. Jawad - alongside Simon Cowell - sits as a trustee.

Following Katie Piper's treatment, Dr. Jawad became increasingly aware of how pervasive acid violence was in his native Pakistan, and as such embarked on a project in early 2009, providing free surgery to victims in Indus Hospital Karachi. Through support from organizations and charities such as Depilex Smile Foundation, Mussarat Misbah, ASF and Islamic Help, he was able to return regularly to Pakistan to provide such treatment. It is in this context where the 'Saving Face' project was undertaken.

Columbia is also one of the country which experience a number of acid attacks. When Dr. Jawad was in Columbia he was recruited to lead an acid care training mission at Simón Bolivar Hospital in Bogotá, Colombia, where many acid attack victims are treated. Dr Jawad was recruited to provide comfort and renewal to the women struggling through painful injuries and excruciating recoveries.

Through Dr. Jawad’s initial training, and subsequent training workshops and missions led by Physicians for Peace, the staff at Simón Bolivar Hospital has instituted drastic protocol changes in acid wound treatments. To help lessen facial disfigurement, acid attack victims are treated earlier and with different techniques.

On the 5th anniversary of the release of 'Saving Face', and the Academy Award which provided it a global stage, it is worthwhile mentioning the impact it has had. Covered by over 250 major national newspapers, and viewed globally, we hope this documentary has implored societies to look more closely at the problems of acid violence and providing justice for its victims. We hope that the inspiring stories of the victims in the film has empowered women and men globally to strive for justice for a crime that in many societies will go unreported.

The documentary follows the passing of Pakistan's first Acid Crime Law, under the leadership of Marvi Memon MNA, and in the years since the documentary was made, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of acid attack victims in Pakistan - from 160 victims in 2010, to 69 in 2016. Indeed, this crime is still far from being eradicated, especially with cases of unreported acid violence, but the statistics offer a degree of optimism.

Whilst there are many significant underlying changes needed in Pakistani society concerning the rights of women, Dr. Jawad aims for there to be a total eradication of acid violence globally by 2020.

Dr. Jawad continues to provide free treatment to victims of acid violence in Karachi, both in SIUT Civil Hospital and R5 Aesthetics and Healthcare.