Oscar award the start of Saving Face director's campaign to address acid attacks

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy'si s capitalising on her moment in the international media spotlight by launching a campaign to help victims of acid attacks and prevent additional ones.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, left, and Daniel Junge pose with their awards for Best Documentary Short for Saving Face. The Pakistani director hopes that the media attention will raise awareness of acid attacks inflicted on more than 150 women each year in Pakistan.
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ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's first Oscar winner is capitalising on her moment in the international media spotlight by launching a campaign to help victims of acid attacks and prevent additional ones.

On Sunday, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won best documentary at the Academy Awards ceremony for her film Saving Face, which highlights the plight of thousands of Pakistani women who have survived brutal acid attacks by male relatives or female in-laws.

Yesterday, the team behind the documentary announced the campaign on its website, hoping to raising awareness about the attacks, inflicted on more than 150 women each year in Pakistan.

"The film must be more than an expose of horrendous crimes. It must be a recipe for addressing the problem and a hope for the future," the film's co-director, Daniel Junge, said on www.savingfacefilm.com.

Obaid-Chinoy's mother, Saba, told Agence France-Presse that winning the Oscar had provided her daughter "with a unique opportunity and strength to strive for her goal more effectively".

"The campaign is mainly aimed at making our society more humane and better to live in. It is to help and remedy those who are victims of such brutality and injustice," she said.

The 52-minute Saving Face chronicles the work of a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr Mohammad Jawad, who travels to Pakistan to conduct reconstructive surgery on the victims.

Pakistani official estimates are that 150 cases of acid violence are reported every year in the country. But rights' groups say the real figure is much higher and many cases go unreported mainly in the rural areas where feudal and tribal customs hold sway.

The website said the film, which few have seen in Pakistan, was "uniquely positioned to advance awareness, education and prevention efforts".

"We're consulting with surgeons, scholars, journalists, activists and other experts, some of whom have also agreed to join our emerging advisory team, in order to maximise the impact of our outreach work," it added.

Obaid-Chinoy dedicated her achievement to all those who helped her in making the documentary, particularly the two acid victims from Punjab province - Rukhsana, 23, and 39-year-old Zakia - who are featured in the documentary.

Rukhsana's husband threw acid on her after she refused to live with him. Rukhsana's sister-in-law poured petrol on her while her mother-in-law lit a match to set her on fire.

"Zakia, Rukhsana this one is for you," said Obaid-Chinoy, who was born in Karachi and is now a Canadian citizen, in a message sent to the media after winning the Oscar.

"All the women in Pakistan working for change: don't give up on your dreams, this is for you," she said while waving her hand holding the trophy during her acceptance speech broadcast on Pakistani televisions.

Obaid-Chinoy's victory set-off a wave of jubilation across Pakistan with television networks running special reports on her life and achievements and Twitter followers posting congratulatory messages on her.

"Congrats Sharmeen! so proud of you. You are a real hero of Pakistan, working for the betterment of our country and improving its image," said a message posted on the Express Tribune newspaper's website.

Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, and the prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, congratulated Obaid-Chinoy for highlighting the sensitive topic of acid attacks "with utmost sensitivity and creativity" and announced a civilian award for her.

Mr Zardari said Obaid-Chinoy brought laurels to the country by "sending a message to the world about Pakistan's softer image".

The Karachi-based News International newspaper praised her for winning the Oscar but said growing violence against women in the society was a cause of great concern for the country.

"Although the award is a matter of personal and national pride, its content is a matter of national shame," the newspaper said in an editorial yesterday.

Obaid-Chinoy has directed about a dozen documentaries. She plans to return Pakistan next month where she hopes to screen Saving Face at schools, universities and community centres to create awareness about social issues in the country, according her office.

Saving Face is to be aired on HBO on March 8.

* With additional reports from Agence-France Presse