Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is the proud winner of Pakistan's first Oscar, but on the night of 84th Academy Awards ceremony, the young film maker announced modestly that the award belonged to the people of Pakistan.
Obaid-Chinoy was recognized for her short film Saving Face, which documents the horrors of acid attack burning. Saving Face will be aired on HBO on International Women's day this year.
At the ceremony, Obaid-Chinoy also acknowledged the contributions of others who helped toward the making of the film. In particular, she praised the work of Dr. Mohammad Jawad for his invaluable service in performing reconstructive surgery on the victims of these barbaric crimes.
In daring to expose such atrocities, Obaid-Chinoy is aware of the risks to her own safety. Individuals who speak out against injustice are often themselves the targets of cruelty and barbarism. Obaid-Chinoy, however, remains undeterred and called for a continuation of the struggle to achieve social justice. She stated "all the women in Pakistan who are working for change -- don't give up on your dreams."
Although the filmmaker called the Oscar "the award," this is hardly the first time she has tackled human rights abuses in countries plagued by violent patriarchy. The filmmaker has previously documented crimes against the oppressed women of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And her work continues, she says.
Obaid-Chinoy is working towards recognizing the "real heroes" of Pakistan, those marginalized women who are raped and beaten on a daily basis.
Therefore, her next project involves the launching of a television program that will highlight the struggles of ordinary women working to eradicate oppression from their midst. This is how Obaid-Chinoy hopes to inspire change and progress in the country. She dreams of a Pakistan where acid attacks will soon become a thing of the past.
Such attacks have disfigured the faces of countless number of victims, many of whom are women in their late teens or early 20s. The effects of the attacks include the charring of facial or bodily tissue, as well as at times, the dissolving of the bones. Acid burning can also at times cause blindness in the victim. And needless to say, the psychological effects of such attacks are deep and long-lasting.
Acid attacks are a form of retribution usually perpetrated by men over perceived breaches of family honour. According to well-known journalist Nicholas Kristoff, such attacks are at an all time high in Pakistan. As many as 200 acid attacks are reported in Pakistan each year.
Local non-governmental organizations are working toward eradicating this curse under the leadership of several prominent Pakistani women. The Acid Survivors Foundation is one such organization that works to rehabilitate acid attack victims. Doctor Mohammad Jawad, who is featured in the film, is a Pakistani plastic surgeon who performs these difficult surgeries on the unfortunate victims. In so doing, he has brought a degree of hope and comfort back into the lives of these physically and emotionally scarred women.
In May, 2011, Pakistan adopted stricter penalties for perpetrators of acid attacks. These include 14 year prison sentence as well as a fine of one million rupees. The real challenge, however, lies in the implementation of the law according to Valerie Khan Yusufzai, the head of Acid Survivors Foundation, as perpetrators often get away with such crimes due to connections with influential people.
Meanwhile, the struggle continues and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has performed an invaluable service by exposing the crime through her acclaimed film. As a Canadian of Pakistani origin, I offer her my congratulations and wish her all the luck and success in her future endeavors.
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