On Tuesday evening, ActionAid put on a fashion show in East London that was so fantastic, the entire audience got up and started dancing down the runway with the models for the finale.
The models were eight phenomenally courageous acid attack survivors from Bangladesh. Having never traveled outside their home country before, they came to London to "break the culture of silence for all women and girls everywhere who live in fear of violence."
As an international charity supporting the poorest women and girls in the world, ActionAid has been working with acid attack survivors in Bangladesh for many years. In 2002, after much lobbying and campaigning, they achieved serious progress when the Bangladesh government changed legislation controlling the import and sale of acid. Attacks have since declined from 400 to 100 a year. According to the charity, 70% of acid attack survivors are women, and 80% of attacks occur in the survivor’s home.
The show's clothing came courtesy of Bangladeshi fashion designer Bibi Russell, who also worked with ActionAid on choreographing a similar event in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. Bibi commented on the “enormous courage and resilience” of the survivors. “My involvement is a tribute to people who have experienced such terrible acts of violence,” she said. “I want to see them be respected, have equal rights and be included in society. Above all I want to see that their human dignity is restored… I have seen their sparkle and beauty and I want to help show this to the world.”
15-year-old Sonali, the youngest of the model survivors, told Refinery29: "After seeing this [the show], many people might be interested to help in treatment of survivors."
When asked what message she wanted to send to other survivors of gender-based violence, Nurun-Nahar — another of the survivors who now works for ActionAid — said: "If I can change my life, then anyone can. I was living in the village before the accident and now I am working for ActionAid. In 2004 and 2005, I went door-to-door to survivors’ houses. I know all the survivors in our network. I could see that they felt so hopeless and that they had no confidence, so I tried to explain to them about how I had changed my life and to show them that if they can change their thinking, then they can also change their life. I hope one day they can have even more success than me and be something even bigger and shine even brighter. I always say this to them: 'You feel so hopeless and demoralized, but look at me, and you can get your inspiration or your energy.'"