By Hasan Mansoor (AFP) – Feb 28, 2012
KARACHI — Pakistan's first Oscar winner launched a campaign on Tuesday, hoping that her documentary about survivors of acid attacks can help eliminate a crime that disfigures hundreds of women each year.
Pictures of 33-year-old Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy collecting her award in the short documentary category were splashed across newspapers as editors fell over themselves to praise the young woman.
Her film "Saving Face" follows victims as they struggle to recover and bring their attackers to justice, and shows the work of British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who helps restore their faces and lives.
Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women, who are too often classified as second-class citizens. Victims are disfigured for life and ostracised by society.
The team behind the documentary are using their website to launch a campaign raising awareness about the attacks, inflicted on around 200 women each year in Pakistan, and to strengthen legislation against the violence.
"The film must be more than an expose of horrendous crimes, it must be a recipe for addressing the problem and a hope for the future," co-director Daniel Junge says on www.savingfacefilm.com.
Pakistan's parliament last year adopted tougher penalties for the crime, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees ($11,000). The new law came into effect on December 28.
Obaid-Chinoy's mother, Saba, told AFP that the campaign was launched formally after her daughter won the Oscar, which had "provided her with a unique opportunity and strength to strive for her goal more effectively".
"The campaign is mainly aimed at making our society more humane and better to live. It is to help and remedy those who are victims of such brutality and injustice," she told AFP.
The website said the film, which few have seen in Pakistan, was "uniquely positioned to advance awareness, education and prevention efforts".
"We?re consulting with surgeons, scholars, journalists, activists and other experts, some of whom have also agreed to join our emerging advisory team, in order to maximize the impact of our outreach work," it adds.
The chairwoman of Acid Survivors Pakistan, a partner in the campaign, told AFP that the fight to eliminate the crime had only just started and that the campaign would increase awareness, partly by showing the film widely.
Valerie Khan Yusufzai said eight acid attacks had been reported in Pakistan so far in 2012 and that all had been registered with police.
"We now need to strengthen the momentum to get more legislation passed which will complement the law that got passed in May 2011," Yusufzai told AFP.
She said new efforts in 2012 needed to focus on overcoming challenges of investigation, difficulties at trial, helping the state provide rehabilitation services and establishing a board to develop funding and to act as monitors.
She praised the film for focusing not only on Pakistan's struggle, but the achievements of citizens, survivors, lawyers, activists and parliamentarians in helping to curb the menace, which she said set an example to other countries.
The need to do more was reflected in some of the press coverage, which was overwhelmingly jubilant about Obaid-Chinoy's success.
"Although the award is a matter of personal and national pride, its content is a matter of national shame," wrote English-language paper The News.
"Pakistan is reportedly the third-most dangerous country in the world for women after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo," it said.
"What is more important is that Chinoy's effort holds up a mirror to us for critical self-examination."
Urdu-language newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt published a special, colour supplement to celebrate the win, seen as a welcome piece of good news in a country where news coverage usually focuses on Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, poverty and corruption.
"It seems like a dream to a Pakistani film to get the Oscar but Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has made it possible," it wrote. "She has done a wonderful job."
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