Pakistan’s First Oscar
Win Explores Efforts to End Acid Violence
This year’s Best Short Documentary category at the Academy Awards has honoured a film from Pakistan about acid violence. Saving Face by directors Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge, follows the work of a British-Pakistani surgeon with the Acid Survivor Foundation (ASF), to provide free surgical services and support to victims of acid attacks. It also explores the holistic ways in which ASF-Pakistan has been working to empower Pakistani women and eradicate acid violence with the support of UN Women, among other partners and donors.
Saving Face is the story of two women from Southern Punjab who are victims of acid attack. “It’s a positive story about Pakistan on two accounts: firstly, it portrays how a Pakistani-British doctor comes to treat them and it also discusses, in great depth, the parliament’s decision to pass a bill on acid violence,” Obaid-Chinoy had said when her film was short-listed for nominations in October 2011, according The Express Tribune. The recently passed Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill requires that the perpetrators of acid violence be punished with life in prison.
Saving Face features a British Pakistani doctor; Dr. Muhammad Ali Jawad, a graduate of Karachi’s Dow Medical College. He became famous after he performed revolutionary plastic surgery on Katie Piper, a British model who was burned by acid thrown in her face by her ex boyfriend. Dr. Jawad traveled back to Pakistan to help some of the women victims of acid violence. It’s the story of his journey to Pakistan, but it’s also a story of two Pakistani women who were victims of acid attacks and how they dealt with the aftermath of the attacks.
Born in 1978 in Karachi, Sharmeen is the first Pakistani to win an Emmy award. She won it for her documentary Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. She graduated from Smith College in the United States with a bachelor of arts in economics and government and then went to complete two master’s degrees from Stanford University in International Policy Studies and Mass Communications.
Obaid-Chinoy began her career with New York Times Television in 2002 with the production of Terror’s Children, a film about Afghan refugee children, which won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women and Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award. Since then, she has produced and reported on more than twelve films around the world. Her films have been shown on Channel 4, CNN, PBS, and Al-Jazeera English.
Sharmeen has a very ambitious social and educational reform agenda for her country. In addition to her career as a filmmaker, Sharmeen is a TED fellow and a social entrepreneur. She is actively working to bring about an “education revolution” in Pakistan’s Sindh province. “There needs to be an overhaul,” Obaid-Chinoy recently told Fast Company. “Textbooks are outdated and I’ve been working with the government on how to encourage critical thinking and move away from rote memorization….It’s tough, because the mindset is not there. The teachers are essentially products of the same system. We have to break the culture, which takes a long time.”
Sindh’s teachers are now spending significant time in professional training with education experts to try and reform the teaching of English, math, and social studies. “We’re really making this a movement for education for social change,” Obaid-Chinoy told Fast Company.
What Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her fellow social entrepreneurs are doing in Pakistan’s unhealthy culture of complaints is truly inspirational. Let’s hope others will follow in her footsteps to light candles and not just curse darkness.
In addition to its rehabilitation services, ASF-Pakistan lobbies for acid and burn legislation. The organization was actively involved in consultations, facilitated by a number of international partners, including UN Women, in the drafting of three laws on the issue. The first of these was unanimously passed and enacted in December 2011, and acid-throwing is now a crime against the state, punishable with a fine of one million rupees and a sentence from 14-years to life imprisonment.
Ending violence against women is one of the global priority areas of UN Women and the UN System, and the organization has long supported efforts towards eradicating it, which includes acid violence. In Cambodia, for example, work by Acid Survivors Trust International – a grantee of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women – supports local organizations that work with burn survivors, and also lobbies for legislation and implementation at national and international levels.
The Oscar win for Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and her team, provides a dynamic platform and boost to the on-going national efforts to have the Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 passed and implemented in Pakistan’s Provincial assemblies.