Friday, June 12, 2015



As Mao Tzedong said, “Women hold up half the sky”, but until recently violence against women and girls has lacked reliable statistics and surveillance systems. Acid throwing, also known as acid attack, has emerged as a new brutal form of violence against women that involves the throwing of sulphuric, nitric or hydrochloric acid onto another person, with the intention to physically, mentally and socially scar another person’s life. Although acid attacks occur worldwide (including Europe, Middle East, North America, North Africa) such violence has become an epidemic in South Asia, especially in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

There are no fix rules of acid violence. Acid attack victims are girls, women and men, and perpetrated by both women and men who kill or seriously injure family and community members. In some cases the victims and perpetuators are also women, who commit the crime for jealously. Yet, global statistics suggest that attacks are predominantly perpetrated by men as a result of shame, dishonour, traditional perception of women and influences from the media. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation(ASF) total of 3510 individuals were burned in Bangladesh by acid between 1999 and 2013, out of which 2408 (69%) are female. The organization has a vision to free Bangladesh from acid violence and ensure that acid survivors live with dignity. Experts claim that most of the acid violence occurring in very remote areas among women and girls remain unreported, increasing the female population from 69% to 75-80% of the total victims.

The majority of acid attacks victims are usually young women aged from thirteen to thirty five and are attacked by men whose sexual desires are rejected or men taking revenge for rejecting marriage proposals. It is an extension of the idea that “If I can’t have her, then no one can have her,” thereby ruining any chances of having an ‘ideal’ marriage life, house and children. More than 43% of total females acid attack survivors are under the age of 18.

As the Pan America Health Organization (PAHO) suggests 10%-50% of women globally have experienced some sort of physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. ASF also reported that half of the acid violence are by the man closest to the victims- married men who get bored by their wives or who want to get dowry[1] from a new wife or who wants to have a son to keep the family tradition. This is because of the embedded patriarchal society where females lack basic rights and are at high risk of violence
Reasons behind Attacks

Reasons for attack vary from rejection of sex and marriage proposal, dowry, family dispute, female infanticide, extramarital affairs, revenge, land or business disputes, sexual jealousy and robbery. The Annual report from ASF statistics emphasizes that dowry, family related dispute and marital dispute consist 21% of reason for acid attack, whereas land or business disputes comprise 39% of total violence. Most disputes related to land, business, property and money occurs between men but perpetrators attack mothers/wives/daughters/sisters of those that they have the disputes as beautiful female members are often considered as ‘pride’ and ‘assets’ of the family.

Acid Attack Reasons (1999-2013). Source: ASF “Annual Report 2013.”

The motives of acid throw often differs by country.

In Bangladesh, the highest world-wide reported cases of acid attack, men are the predominant acid throwers whose motivations are over land and business disputes followed by refusal of marriage or sexual proposal, ASF suggests.

The number of reported acid attacks in India has surged. There were 309 reported acid attack cases in 2014 compared to 66 cases in 2013, India home minister reported. In India, acid is poured against women predominantly for hate or revenge. Reshma Qureshi (age 18) and Lalita Ben Bansi (age 21) were attacked for revenge in India. In May 2014, Reshma was visiting her sister in Allahabad when her brother-in-law tried to attack both of them. Reshma tried to escape, when some of the sulphric acid fell on her sister. But her brother-in-law’s friends chased her down a street where she was pinned down and her face doused with acid. She lost her left eye; her right eye is still infected. Her face was severely disfigured. Lalita, meanwhile, was on her way to a fair in October 2012 when an elaborate ordeal emptied the beer bottle filled with acid over her head. She was attacked five months after she yelled at a younger cousin brother during an indoor game. It took three hours for her mother and aunt to get her to a hospital. By then she was blinded, her elbows were stuck at an angle and her nose, ears and eyelids had melted.

In Pakistan, men more commonly throw acid on women over rejection of marriage/sex proposal or women wearing modern or westernized dress. At least 280 women died and 750 suffered injuries in 2002 alone as a result of acid attacks, ASF Pakistan listed. The Oscar-winning documentary about acid attacks in Pakistan, Saving Face, highlighted the stories of two women, Zakia and Rukhsana, where Zakia was attacked by her husband when she made the decision to divorce her addictive husband. In the case of Rukhsana, her husband threw the acid on her then her sister-in-law threw gasoline, and her mother-in-law lit a match and set her on fire. The reason of attack on Rukhsana is unknown and her husband denied the accusation.

In Cambodia, it is more common that women attack other women over sexual jealousy or ‘triangle of loving/relationship affairs’ so that the husbands will not stay with another woman or next wife.
Recently there have been notable acid attacks among Iranian women for not dressing modestly and covering hair. Acid is also commonly used for female genital mutilation (FGM) and preserving girls’ chastity.

Why Acid?
There are few factors that contribute to escalate the level of acid attack. First, acid has become a favoured weapon of choice for both men and women because it is cheaper than other forms of weapons and are readily available at stores. In Asian countries, sulphuric acid is as cheap as 30 cents a litre and can be found at any automobile shops.. Second, the legal system are weak and police officers especially in Asian countries are corrupts which often allows perpetrators to avoid justice.
Measures to protect Acid victims

In 2015, the Supreme Court of India ordered private hospitals to bear the entire cost of medical treatment of acid attack survivors, including costly plastic and corrective surgeries. In July 2013, the court ordered the state government to pay the compensation of accumulated 300,000 rupees (€4,500) in installments to the victims. The victims are entitled 100,000 rupees within 15 days of an assault and rest over the subsequents months but lack proper implementation and poor awareness among law enforcers as well as victims. The two Mumbai acid attack survivors Reshma Qureshi and Lalita Ben lack the information about the type of compensation the government offered to acid victims and where to claim. They are not even sure if they can receive the compensation.

For Reshma, it has almost been a year since her family have received a letter from a senior police inspector promising them 100,000 rupees within 15 days and 200,000 rupees over the subsequent two months. But she and her family have yet to receive the state’s compensation. In the case of Lalita, she was provided free medical treatment but was not aware about the compensation. Although Lalita was attacked before the Supreme Court verdict, the court stated in March that every acid victims are eligibility for assistance under the scheme would be implemented, which means Lalita too could approach the government for aid.

In the Indian case, the 300,000 rupees compensation by the state government to the survivors is not enough for the multiple round of plastic surgeries. Aside from the various efforts by state forces, there is a need to wake up to the issue and raise a collective voice against it. Acid violence seldom kills but results in a permanent scar, both physical and mental.

There have been several efforts such as free treatments, compensation from the government and, ‘donate a face’ campaign, to support the victims and raise awareness among people about the experiences of the survivors, but they are not sufficient. There is a need for a national, international and regional working group to share information, raise awareness, improve interventions and prevent acid attack violence.

[1] Dowry is given by bride’s family in form of money or goods and the wife brings to her husband at marriage.

(This piece was written for 'Words In The Bucket' that published on April 29, 2015.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emergencies: Earthquake Relief Fund for Nepal

Hi There,
This is Sunita from Nepal. Being a Nepalese, my country is crying for help, we are trying to take a step towards humanity and relief aids for the victims.
Even a single cent counts for Nepal Earthquake Victims. Your contribution will save a life

At least 3,218 people are now known to have died in a massive earthquake which hit Nepal on Saturday 25th April 2015. Hundreds of people are still missing. Rescue missions and aid have started arriving to help cope with the aftermath of the earthquake, the worst to hit Nepal for more than 80 years. We are trying to make an effort to help with whatever we can. Your small contribution can be a great addition to our cause. The collected sum will be utilized to help the victims of this disaster.

The aftermath of disaster has left many people homeless, levering buildings, demolishing road and means of transport. They need food, sanitation, medical supplies and shelters.

Earthquake Victims in Nepal

Please go to Earthquake Relief Fund for Nepal  or Givealittle-Cause, Spark Foundation to donate. You can donate as less as $1 and as much as you want. Please keep supporting by sharing this among your networks.

The Humanitarian Relief fund generated will be fully combined and the fund will directly go towards the affected communities.

Thank you all,
Sunita Basnet

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Women Rights Movement: A Journey Through Time

Women’s issues captured attention only in 1962, when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly asked the women’s commission to prepare a report on the role of women in the social and development plans. The reasoning behind this was that economic and social development would enhance women’s status. As a result, the ‘Women in Development’ (WID) approach was introduced in 1970 based on liberal feminist theory. Immediately, UN general Assembly adopted this approach to fully integrate women in developmental sectors. It was introduced to incorporate women in the development process, but it failed to consider women’s roles. So, in 1975, the first international conference on Women and Development was held in Mexico City, in combination with the celebrations of international women year where 7,000 women and men from various nationalities, races, and creeds, exchanged views and experiences.
United Nation’s International Women’s Year in 1975. Photo: AND Zentralbild. Source: ARAB
Needs differentiated according to geographical area. In the North, especially the industrial countries, women were seeking gender equality in the work place and home but in the South, especially the newly independent (emerging) countries, women faced oppression and still had a long way to go to reach the needs of the North. Rural development had become a major theme for the advancement of women both at local and national level. An example of this is the introduction of women in civil society and scholarships for women, which strengthened the transformation, and connected women and development.
During 1976-85, there was an institution-building decade for women’s rights and WAD. For example, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) model was established at regional level to foster socioeconomic development among its member states and focuses on ICT, science and Technology for Development. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) was set to finance women’s activities in low-income countries and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women were established to engage in research and training. However WAD failed to analyze the relationship between patriarchy, capitalism and marginalization of women by ignoring the reproductive aspects of women’s work and lives. It emphasized the value of income-generating activities without considering social and cultural reproduction.
In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the first human rights treaty for women, was proposed to eradicate sex-based discrimination and focus on the advancement of women and girls. It later became a useful tool for women to pressure their government. For instance, as a consequence of this, in 2002, Nepal went through the Amendments in Civil Code and granted women’s right to property, divorce right, the right to abortion and greater punishments for polygamy and rape. A step forward.
Later on, the second women Conference (1980) in Copenhagen recognized that there was a disparity between women’s guaranteed rights and their capacity to exercise them. The identified needs were equal access to education; equal access to employment opportunities; and equal access to adequate health care services. The consensus was found when representatives of women of the south were ready to speak more freely about gender relationships.
Conference on United Nations Women’s Decade Meets in Nairobi, 15 -27 July 1985. UN Photo/Milton Grant
In 1985, considering a fast increase in poverty worldwide, the third UN Women’s International Conference, held in Nairobi, wanted to shed light to the disparity between men and women. And so the Gender and Development (GAD) model emerged in early 1990s that recognized that women should not be treated in isolation from men. This model emphasized the social, economic and political relationship between men and women to raise awareness and consequently improve women’s equal access to development activities. It also, and rightly so, recognized the role of men and state in contributing to equity and social justices, recognizing that the state carried the responsibility to provide social service. Nonetheless, the most important aspect of this concept was that it viewed women as active agents of change rather than passive beneficiaries of development approaches.
A great change came in 1993, when the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” took hold from the hard work of NGO’s and women’s organizations, in preparation for the UN world conference on human rights in Vienna. Immediately, violence against women became a key issue worldwide with an annual 16 days of activism and petition in 123 countries. This huge growth in the movement was probably also due to strengthening of the ‘poor and disempowered’ women’s movement in rural areas and in the informal economy of cities and towns, especially in India. For example, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a movement of self-employed women in rural and urban India, grew to more than 600,000 members who believed that India’s “second freedom” was the economic empowerment of informal and unprotected working women.
Women’s human rights provided a new conceptual theme and called for new strategies; peacemaking and peacekeeping became a new arena for activists and grassroots organizations, and allowed peasant voices to be heard.
The fourth world conference on women was held Beijing in 1995 with representatives from 189 countries. The agenda included a Platform for Action and a roadmap to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women everywhere. As a result of the Beijing Summit Platform for Action, UNIFEM established a trust fund in 1996 to finance action to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The UN conference in Vienna became a vehicle to highlight the new visions of human rights thinking and practice being developed by women.
However, as we come closer to our years in this journey through history, we see there is still much progress to be made towards equality. Although the UN and its agencies are celebrating 105 years of world women’s movement in New York this year and despite the various efforts for the advancement of women and girls in global south and north, there are still problems in gender equality in terms of labor markets, pay gap, socio-economic and political status.
As we come nearer to the new Development goals, a huge stir has been created in terms of women’s rights and gender equality. One new thing that is being spoken about, is the role men should actually play in the fight for gender equality. A solidarity movement similar to the ‘HeForShe’ is required in order to include men in addressing gender inequality and the gap of women in socioeconomic and political decision-making.