by Merle Hoffman
When the documentary “Saving Face” was awarded an Oscar this year, it was the first time many had heard about one of the most grotesque forms of violence against women: acid attacks on the victim’s face and upper body. While the film focused on such attacks in Pakistan, this week a victim in India spoke out about her attack, telling a journalist that she should be allowed to legally kill herself.
“For the last nine years, I am suffering … living without hope, without future,” said Sonali Mukherjee. “If I don’t have justice or my health, my only way out is to die.” Mukherjee was asking for harsher penalties for the men who disfigured her face over nine years ago, leaving her partially deaf and blind, according to Reuters. They did so, Mukherjee said, because she refused them sex.
Equality Now and Human Rights Watch have been reporting on these crimes for years.
Acid attacks are one aspect of global violence against women, a topic on which On the Issues Magazine has written often. In 2008, Malika Souba highlighted the long search of Algerian acid attacks for justice , while in a 2010 Cafe piece Elayne Clift noticed the inclusion of some acid attacks in Kristof and Wu’s Half the Sky. And last summer, Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE, described how regions experience an upsurge of gender violence in the wake of war, citing conditions in Guatemala and Iraq.
Like many terrorist techniques, acid attacks have metastasized all over the world. As British readers were reminded this week in the Daily Mail, the documentary Katie: My Beautiful Face chronicles a case in Great Britain, in which model Katie Piper was attacked with acid by an ex-boyfriend.
Treating individual victims of this horrendous crime is really only a “cosmetic” solution. It does not end the misogyny — the traditionalist, fundamental societal norms that allow such degradation to happen. Nor does it end the pattern by which an enabling world watches in silence. Clearly, a far more radical solution is necessary to end these matters of global misogyny.
But changing one face, one life, at a time is something we can accomplish — now.
I want to suggest something immediate: the creation of a global fund to secure reconstructive surgery for acid attack victims and survivors. Sonali Mukherjee, described above, has lived with disfigurement for nine years, reportedly because funds for surgery are lacking â€” yet it doesn’t have to be that way.
Women can contribute to helping women who are disfigured. I propose women contribute a percentage of their annual expenditures on cosmetics. It would be a feminist tithe — not one of earned income, which can disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged women, but a tithe of disposable income. American women spend seven billion dollars a year on cosmetics, according to a 2008 study from the YWCA. It seems a small sacrifice to reappropriate a small portion of these dollars so that some women can have enough of a face to enhance.
If you’re intrigued by this idea and would like to set up the fund with me, please drop me a line at [email protected].
This may be, literally, the least we can do.