How This Salon Is Empowering Acid Attack Survivors

Masarrat Misbah, a beautician in Lahore, Pakistan, started the Depilex Smile Again Foundation in 2003 after a woman who came to her salon unveiled herself as an acid attack survivor.

“Imagine a woman literally without a face — someone with no eyes, nose, lips, ears, and hair,” Misbah said.

Misbah’s objective through the donation-funded nonprofit is to provide vocational training in order to economically empower the acid attack survivors and pay for their reconstructive surgery. Many of the women have dozens of surgeries after being attacked.

Misbah and other beauticians have trained 423 victims in salon work, a full-time program that lasts about four weeks.

“We can only teach them how to do nails, hair, and a little makeup because a lot of them are [partially] blinded from the acid attacks and their eye movement doesn’t allow [them] to work on intricate details,” Misbah said.

Noreen Jabbar, 32, whose ex-husband threw acid at her in 2014 after she divorced him, told Refinery29 she wants to open her own salon after her training is complete. Jabbar has three daughters and struggles to pay her rent.

Farah Sajjad, 35, said she “had no hope to live” after her sister-in-law attacked her with acid last year. Sajjad’s husband lived abroad and sent money to his entire family; Sajjad said that when he asked her to meet him abroad, his sister feared that he would stop supporting the rest of the family and attacked Sajjad in revenge.

“I am learning salon work to support my family,” she said.

Sabira Sultana, also a survivor, said, “The solution to end this heinous crime is strict implementation of law and strict sentences."

Activists and lawmakers have been working on this for years now. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, passed in 2011, recommended a punishment of up to 14 years in prison and a fine of up to 1 million rupees for perpetrators.

Local newspaper, The Express Tribune, quoted Valerie Khan Yusufzai, chair of the Pakistan branch of Acid Survivors, as saying the conviction rate rose from 6% before the bill was passed to 18% in 2012. Understandably, many survivors and activists felt this act alone was not enough to prevent acid crimes.

Enter the Acid and Burn Crime Bill, first proposed in 2012, which was essentially a follow-up to the act, a push to further strengthen penalties for acid attacks. A stronger iteration of the bill has since been reintroduced, and is still pending while activists and lawmakers negotiate on several clauses.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
Massarat Misbah, CEO of the Depilex Smile Again Foundation, teaches salon skills to acid attack survivors during a training session at Depilex salon in Lahore, Pakistan. “We can only teach them how to do nails, hair, and a little makeup because a lot of them are blinded from the acid attacks and their eye movement doesn’t allow them to work on intricate details,” Misbah said.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
After receiving the training, many of the women work at Depilex salons across Pakistan. Some of them even go into various other professions, because the training helps them gain their confidence back.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
Misbah puts makeup on a model during a training session. Misbah has also recently started her own line of makeup, which she uses to train acid attack survivors.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
Asiya Bibi, an acid attack survivor, practices salon work during a training session. Bibi was attacked with acid by her husband more than two decades ago and recently registered with Smile Again. She said working with the foundation has given her hope and a new life.
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Misbah shows the trainees various hairstyles.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
The volume of trainees varies frequently, but there are at least four to five survivors in each session. Most of the women said they feel comfortable sharing their stories with one another, and have made some great friends through the foundation.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
Misbah trains the survivors in various hairstyles and coloring techniques.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
Farah Sajjad, an acid attack survivor, visits Depilex for her first day of training with Smile Again Foundation. Sajjad's sister-in-law threw acid on her a year ago when her husband asked her to move to Oman with him. Her sister-in-law, along with the rest of the family, thought that he would stop sending them money if his wife went to live with him.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
Survivors Asiya Bibi (right) and Noreen Jabbar (left) during a training session at Depilex. Jabbar was attacked with acid by her ex-husband while she was dropping their children off at school after their recent divorce. “He took revenge from me and said, 'If you can’t be mine, you can’t be anyone else’s,' while he threw acid at me,” Jabbar said. She plans on opening her own salon after receiving the training from Misbah at Smile Again Foundation.
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Photographed by Saiyna Bashir
The trainees take a lunch break together.
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