Shameem Akhtar (Jhang, Pakistan)
How do you tell a bare seventeen years old young girl that you have lost half of your body organs, including one eye, for life?
Life was a happy cheerful affair for Shameem, like it is, and should be to any seventeen years old, full of promises and hopes and dreams for the days to come. Yes, for some days she had been harassed by a group of young boys hovering around her house; she had told them off a number of times and thought they would leave her alone eventually; but she could neither know that they had taken her rebuff as an insult nor could she imagine what was to follow.
On that fateful day as she was walking back to her house, she was kidnapped by this unruly gang who not only brutally raped her, but when they threw her outside her home, their leader stepped forward and elaborately threw acid all over the almost unconscious; Shameem who did not have the strength left in her to fight back or even run away. Her bad fate made her a victim of acid attack. “I know I have survived the worst of it all, but I think for as long as I live, I will not be able to forget the look that boy had as he threw acid on me; it was a strange barbaric look, a self-satisfactory, taunting look; as if telling me, see, I have got what I wanted!” Shameem still shivers and sobs when she recounts the moment that so fatefully changed her life forever.
Today after eight years, a series of reconstructive surgery and psychiatric therapy, Shameem has been pulled back to life eventually and works as a proficient and dedicated worker in Depilex. Happily married off and recently becoming a mother of a lovely daughter, Shameem feels she has been reborn.
She was also facilitated with an auto rickshaw, so that they can make a reasonable living for themselves. Her husband drives the rickshaw and looks after his family. The trauma really devastated my body and soul, but I thank my Allah for giving me a totally new life once again; and after the addition of a loving husband and wonderful baby of my very own, I have nothing much to ask really.
KNOWING ‘DEPILEX SMILEAGAIN FOUNDATION’ BETTER
This organisation from Pakistan is making acid attack victims live instead of just surviving: Gender Based Domestic Violence has grown over the last decade, and there is now widespread recognition that this is a global human rights problem requiring a comprehensive and coordinated response from civil society, the state and the international community. Gender-based violence is recognized as a violation of several human rights.
Acid and kerosene burning is a gender-specific crime. Young girls and women between the ages of 14-25 are the common victims of this crime. Motives vary but are most frequently obsession, jealousy; suspected infidelity, refusal for marriage, female childbirths, demand for dowry, husband wanting to remarry, non-cooperation among families etc.
Every year hundreds of women are intentionally burnt by acid or kerosene oil; unfortunately many of them do not survive due to lack of on time assistance and treatment. Depilex Smileagain Foundation (DSF) was conceptualized in 2003 and registered in 2005 as a nonprofit support and assistance group. Since then the Founder President Masarrat Misbah has consistently pursued its Mission.
- to help female survivors and victims of acid and kerosene oil burns in Pakistan by providing them appropriate medical attention and reconstructive surgery, psychological/ psychiatric support, shelter and vocational training
- to create social awareness and sensitivity by working towards the complete eradication of this heinous crime
Although Masarrat spent all her life helping women to look beautiful but something deep inside always reminded her that this was not the ultimate goal she wanted to achieve. Despite being blessed and graced with abundance, she was always thoughtful of the miserable plight of the women who had lost their faces and limbs due to deliberate burning. With a strong desire to make a meaningful contribution and a will to bring about a positive change in the lives of those who had suffered due to atrocities of deliberate burning, she decided establish Depilex Smileagain Foundation fulfilling the Corporate Social Responsibility of Depilex Institute and chain of Beauty Clinics.
For her untiring efforts as a beautician, entrepreneur, social worker, philanthropist and a humanitarian, she is recipient of several prestigious awards including the Presidential Award for Pride of Performance.
Acid and kerosene oil burn women from all over Pakistan are registered with the Foundation. They are treated without distinction of cast, creed, age or religion DSF has more than 550 registered victims out of which 220 have either been successfully treated or are at different stages of treatment. DSF has a humane approach and therefore, these are not numbers but human beings to be served with all required support till they are rehabilitated. The DSF package includes medical treatment, psychosocial support vocational training, job placement and advocacy campaign.
- Free Reconstructive Surgeries
- Psychological and Psychiatric assistance to facilitate social reintegration of the survivors
- Vocational Training for rehabilitation assistance to enable the victims to become productive members of the society
- Educate the public about violence against women with emphases on acid and kerosene oil burn incidents
- Networking with pressure groups to advocate the need for legislation and implementation of law at all levels
Volunteer doctors from Britain, USA, France and Italy visit Pakistan on regular basis to perform reconstructive surgery. Team of local surgeons supports the foreign doctors and carries out postoperative procedures and after care. DSF is registered with selected hospitals across Pakistan for checkup, follow-up and surgeries.
In the first phase after registration, a thorough check up with doctors is arranged to determine the required medical and surgical course. Reconstructive surgery is a long process. During this part of the path in restoring a life, teams of plastic surgeons perform surgery on the acid and kerosene oil burnt patients and tries to restore their sight, face and features. In most cases the process of reconstructive surgeries of burn victims is very lengthy and requires 25 to 30 surgical operations over a period of time, and the total cost incurred on the process becomes quite substantial.
The next phase of the path to recovery is the much-needed psycho social support. The effects of acid violence include serious physical harm and victims are disfigured for life. In addition to the inevitable psychological trauma, survivors also face social isolation and ostracism that further damage their self-esteem and seriously undermine their professional and personal future. As such psychotherapy is of vital importance. Following its comprehensive approach DSF takes care of the survivors from surgeries to complete rehabilitation. When the patients are under medical treatment it is also important to assist them with psychological and social rehabilitation. DSF engages the services of psychotherapists and experts in related field to help the survivors.
DSF has learned through experience that social support; involvement in social and recreational activities and employment has positive influence on the victims. The majority of burned people make a successful adjustment following even large and disfiguring injuries and that successful rehabilitation is long-term and episodic in nature.
Another aspect that DSF has always considered important is helping the patients with trainings and job placement. When women are supported and empowered, all of the society benefits.
This is more so in the case of acid burn victims. While they are treated, they are also supported to complete their education and assisted to learn skills for economic sustainability. DSF has arranged training of many girls as beauticians. Some of them are employed in Depilex Beauty Clinics; the others run small parlors of their own and earn regular income to support themselves and their families. Two girls have completed nursing courses and are employed as professional nurses in leading hospitals. Others are working in banks, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, restaurants and shopping malls.
We communicate success stories and the challenges being faced, through social media, letters, TV channels and all suitable public and private forums. Appeals are regularly made to philanthropists and capable business and non-business organizations to come forward and help DSF in reviving the lives of these victims.
DSF regularly plans Avocacy Campaign during Ramazan. This helps in raising funds for the DSF cause. During this holy month a number of TV channels contact DSF and invite Masarrat Misbah and the acid burn victims to participate in various programs.
DSF remains in touch with its family of patients and follows through till they are settled in the social main stream. We happily share that Ten (10) girls after being fully treated have been married, have become mothers and are leading happy family lives. DSF arranged the ceremonies involving media. In fact the ceremonies were held in the studios of the participating TV channel telecasting the events live. These events also serve as advocacy for the projection of the cause of women’s rights as well as build hope and confidence of the suffering families.
Speaker National Assembly, Fehmida Mirza invited President DSF Masarat Misbah to address the Women Parliamentarian Caucus. She highlighted the need for formulating a stronger law in support of domestic violence victims and suggested severe punishment for criminals. DSF has pursued the Government to formulate laws to eradicate domestic violence. As a result of its hard work, the Senate passed a bill in December 2011 in order to do new legislation to eradicate this crime. DSF continues to work for helping the victims of this heinous crime and also creates social awareness.
The Acid Crime Prevention Bill Passed
DSF made untiring efforts in collaboration with civil society partners to project the women’s rights. The vague legislation was a major hindrance. It was difficult to get the culprits to the court of law and even if the cases were registered the punishment was so meager that they were out of the jail in no time.
The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill is an amendment in Pakistan Penal Code 1860. It increases the punishment for offenders up to life imprisonment and makes it mandatory for the offender to pay a fine of Rs one million to the victim.
At the top level it is the prime responsibility of the Board of Directors to administer and manage the Foundation and to ensure that all activities are implemented according to the mission and objectives. They also ensure that all activities are decentralized subject to sound financial and operational management principles.
The Chief Executive Officer is primarily responsible to carry out the strategic plans and policies as established by the Board of Directors. The Chief Executive Officer reports to the Board of Directors, serves as the primary spokesperson and representative for the organization and actively advocates for the organization, its beliefs, and its programmatic efforts. She regularly participates in media programs and ensures that the organization and its mission, programs, and services are consistently presented in a strong, positive image to relevant stakeholders.
DSF Volunteers and Supporters
DSF Volunteers and supporters are a major asset to the organization. By contributing time, energy and talents, volunteers generate enthusiasm, increase public engagement, augment fundraising efforts and complement the work of paid staff. They are especially vital resource as DSF is striving to meet the needs of beneficiaries with limited staff and budgets. DSF volunteers belong to various professions including law, marketing, media and public relations. In addition the outlets of Depilex Beauty Clinic facilitate Depilex Smileagain Foundation as voluntary support units for registration of victims from all over Pakistan. This enables the Foundation to give maximum output with minimum budget support.
The Way Forward
DSF is planning to institutionalize the much-needed support to the victims of domestic violence.
- Set up a specialized Burns Hospital
- Establish a Vocational Training Center
- Establish a Shelter and Rehabilitation Centre
- Build a strong Advocacy Campaign for proper legislation and strict implementation of law