On Thursday, April 26, Amnesty International-University of Missouri — St. Louis hosted a screening of the award-winning documentary “Saving Face” as part of their new campaign to raise awareness of violence against women worldwide.
The Oscar-winning documentary, directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, brings to light the horrific reality of socially-accepted violence for many women in Pakistan, where vicious acid attacks often go unreported and largely unpunished. The attackers generally face very minimal punishment from the state.
The film intertwines the personal stories and lives of two victims of acid attacks, Zakia and Rukhsana, as they deal with the aftermath of such horrific attacks while also bringing focus to the nation of Pakistan, where awareness of this social problem is burgeoning.
“I’m of Pakistani descent, but I was born and raised in Britain, so I kind of have a mix of both cultures. I’m not completely westernized; I try to keep a balance between the two, so at the same time I can see what’s going on in my culture,” Sabah Mehmood, president of UMSL’s Amnesty International chapter, said.
In many cases, women who have been the victims of acid attacks are victimized by their significant others, family members or others who are close to them. Both women in the film were attacked by their husbands, Zakia after filing for divorce. Though there are groups dedicated to aiding victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, such as Acid Survivors Foundation-Pakistan, many victims have very little access to reconstructive surgery and live out the rest of their lives following the attack both physically and emotionally scarred.
Obaid Chinoy has been quoted as saying of the film, “It goes beyond the immediate horrors of acid violence to its prolonged effects. It forces its viewers to empathize with, but also admire, the immense strength of the survivors.”
The screening of the film is one of many that the group plans to host in order to raise awareness of violence against women, in the hopes that students will be spurred to action.
“The women have no voice in those countries. They’re uneducated. They don’t have jobs. They’re totally dependent on the men of the family. Before marriage they’re the property of their fathers and after marriage they’re the properties of their husbands, so they have no life of their own. They have to depend on the men, and I think that as western women it’s up to us to give those women a voice,” Mehmood said. “We can easily reject a marriage proposal, but for them it’s a matter of life or death. Someone could kill them, someone could mutilate them, just for saying ‘no, I don’t want to marry this guy.’ And the man can attack them with acid, with the mentality of ‘if I can’t have you, no one can have you.’”
The group plans to host more presentations and movie screenings that focus on the reality of violence against women worldwide, in a continuing effort to get UMSL’s student population interested and involved.
“We really want to raise awareness about what’s really going on, especially in third world countries and other male-dominated societies. We’re trying to break the stereotype. [The violence] is not a part of religion, it’s [the product of] twisted minds,” said Mehmood.
Though the group was pleased with Thursday’s turnout, they plan to host repeat screenings of “Saving Face” in the future.
By Sharon Pruitt, Opinions editor for The Current