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.