"Women And Girls Are So Cheap In This Society"

Another day, another story about the dangers of being born female. Last night, Australia's ABC network ran a segment about the horrible reality of acid violence in Bangladesh. It is, as our tipster described it, "amazing, terrible, inspiring."

Unsurprisingly, nearly all the victims interviewed for the segment are women. Among the victims, we meet one small boy, whose aunt poured acid down his throat when he was a month old. His mother says her sister was jealous that she did not have a male child of her own. Another child was attacked by her father because she was born a girl. Several years later, her father has been released from prison, and reconciled with her mother. But their child continues to live at the Acid Survivors Foundation because neither parent wants to take home their horribly scarred female child.

Acid attacks are common in Bangladesh, with 179 reported in the past year alone. While most of the attacks are over land and property disputes, many are also targeted over spurned advances. Reporter Sally Sara interviews Fozila, who was attacked by a man that she had refused to marry. Nine years later, Fozila says she is still unable to look herself in the mirror.

Acid has become a weapon of choice for many because it is cheap and readily available. Sulfuric acid is used in the production of jewelry, and it is possible to buy enough acid to ruin a woman's face for 20 Australian cents. Monira Rahman, head of the Acid Survivors Foundation, says that acid violence is so common because "women and girls are so cheap in this society, so they can destroy them, they can just throw them out, they can get them easily. So it doesn't matter to them. And often these young children are just victims of the cruel mentality of the adult man."

The Bangladeshi government is attempting to address the issue by broadcasting PSAs about how to treat a victim of an acid attack (run cold water over their face for at least thirty minutes) and through regulating the sale of acid.

The situation is horrible all around, but there is, as promised, an inspiring part of the story. Sara interviews several victims who have fought to live their lives normally, despite the public scorn heaped upon disfigured women. Fozila has moved out of her rural village and into Dhaka, where she rents an apartment on her own. She recently received her BA and plans to someday get her PhD. "I believe that my beauty is not in my face, my beauty is in my inside," she says. A woman named Hasina has taken a job in the Acid Survivors Foundation legal foundation, whose lawyers helped to convict the man that attacked her. She says she is happy that he is behind bars: "I am free. Whereas you're a prisoner... You will be given your punishment and I am happy."

Hasina is still able to see the beauty in her own face. "People say that my eyes are so beautiful, it's obvious just from one eye," she says. "This eye inspires me to live. It's a very important thing for me. It gives me the light to go on."

A Brave Face [ABC]