Margaret Heera running her fingers through her clients. “You have to manage time for yourself and your skin,” she says as she ties her hair in an intricate knot.
Beauty salon in Lahore’s busy. Sitting between the potted plants on the chairs in front of the full-length mirrors, women are waiting to get their hair cut or style, manicure and pedicure.
The living room is the place in a refuge for women in the city. But Heera, 29, it is much more.
One day in 2013 Husband Heera two years locked her in the room and poured acid on her face and body. He was unhappy with the small dowry she received from parents when they were married.
Every year many women in Pakistan are attacked with acid, despite legislation aimed at preventing such attacks.
Heera is one of seven women currently working in the salon Depilex in terms of jobs for acid attack survivors, who are often shunned , overlooked for jobs and treated as outcasts.
“First, most of the customers were shocked when they saw me, my scars … they won’t let me work for them, but now all is well. All this is very supportive,” says Heera. “I’m now an independent. I invest in the education of the son.”
Released in 1980, the owner Masarrat Misbah, a network of showrooms spread throughout the country. In 2005, Misbah configure Depilex Smileagain Foundation to support burn victim, especially the victims of acid attacks, reconstructive surgery, consultations, vocational training, creating jobs in her salon.
Abdiya Shahin, program Manager Smileagain, said that of the 750 women registered with the Fund, 460 survivors of acid attacks.
Most acid attackers are men and most victims are women. Attacks often happen because women are avoiding gender traditions, refusing the offer of marriage, for example. The women were attacked with acid for giving birth to girls.
Legislation introduced in Pakistan in 2011 to criminals threatens from 14 years to life imprisonment and a fine of 1 million rupees (£4,700).
According to data collected by the NGO Fund of the acid survivors (ASF), between 2007 and 2018 was recorded 1,485 cases of acid attacks in Pakistan. About one-third of children splashed with acid when the family members came under attack.
Last year there were 80 recorded attacks by acids, a drop of 50% in 2014. But during the fall in cases is seen by some as proof that the law, while others believe that many cases go unreported.
The rate of conviction of offenders is not happy, and has fallen by almost half in the period from 2016 to 2018, with 63.6 per cent to 38.4%.
In Punjab province, where more than 80% attacks in Pakistan acids, the authorities claim that is taken seriously by the law.
One of the reasons a large number of cases is the difficulty in monitoring the sale of acid, used for the cultivation of cotton, a key industry in Punjab. Cotton products 10% of the country’s GDP.
In 2012, the state authorities ruled that the attack acid will be prosecuted in the courts, which were originally created to try terrorism suspects. The state says that by using these special courts accelerates both the judicial process and sends a powerful signal about the importance the government places on the termination of attacks using acid.
The approach seems to be working. According to the ASF, which works with police and lawyers, reported in the Punjab before the law changed only 2-3% of attacks using acid. Now reported more than 90% of cases.
Last year, the chief Minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar committed 100 million rupees to help the victims of acid and burn attacks are rehabilitated and come “back to life”. The money is expected to provide support up to 1,000 survivors.
Zainab Qaiserani, project coordinator at ASF, says that the government needs to do more.
“Currently, we are in favour of the bill at state and Federal level to provide free medical and rehabilitation services to acid attack and burns, along with the development of a monitoring mechanism and financing,” she says.
“The process is not so fast. Especially with the advent Covid-19, priorities have shifted to the fight against the pandemic and the issues arising from it.”
Sabra Sultan, Manager of the salon Depilex in Quetta, was attacked with acid in 1993, her husband in a dowry dispute. She took the case to court, but her husband accused her that she is mentally unstable, and he was released.
Sultana, who started training as a beautician in 2006, said she now lives life on her own terms and support other survivors.
“So many lives [have been] is breaking but we are dealing with it now,” she says. “Never too late”.
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