From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

I am always impressed by the spirit and courage of acid survivors. One of the women I recently met during a public event is 32-year-old  Nadia Bano from the suburbs of Punjab in Pakistan.

Nadia had been a happily married woman with three children, two sons and a daughter. Her brother had refused an attempted forced marriage to Nadia’s sister-in-law which provoked the deplorable attack that became the turning point in Nadia’s life. Furious at the rejection, and seeking revenge, her in-laws threw acid on her face one night while she was asleep. Her face was severely burnt, and she lost one of her ears.

"Like Nadia, women at a USAID-supported vocational center in Punjab, Pakistan are trained in different skills so they can earn a living for themselves and their families." Photo credit: Raja Zulfiqar

“Women at a USAID-supported vocational center in Punjab, Pakistan are trained in different skills so they can earn a living for themselves and their families.” Photo credit: Raja Zulfiqar

In Pakistan, acid attacks are predominantly against women, although there are a few attacks on men. The motivation behind such brutal acts is usually hate, revenge, jealousy, or disputes about money or land. Survivors of domestic violence are often left with long-term psychological and physical trauma; after 4 years and 17 surgeries, Nadia recovered physically, but not psychologically. It is a fundamental human right that women must be free to live without fear of domestic violence, and that’s what Nadia was  looking for.

“I didn’t want people to pity me, all I desired was for someone to help me find a job so I could actually be able to feed my children,” said Nadia. During one of her treatment sessions in Islamabad, a doctor told her about USAID’s Gender Equity Program. The program provides small grants to Pakistani organizations to fund projects that expand access to justice for women, increase knowledge of women’s rights and combat gender-based violence.

Under the USAID project, Nadia took part in a “Visual Arts Expression” workshop and learned the art of taking photographs. As a part of the training, she also was given a camera. She had always wanted to capture and praise the beauty of others through her camera, and she is now using her new skills to do so, and earn an income.

“I was keen to use my skill to spread smiles across my community which I am able to do now,” Nadia said. She is hopeful that in the near future she will be able to start her own professional photography and events management business, so she can continue to capture happy moments for her family and friends. Female photographers are in demand in communities like Nadia’s, where many people are not comfortable hiring a male photographer to take photos of women.

Today, in the wake of the Oscar-winning film, “Saving Face,” the issue of gender-based violence, specifically acid attacks in Pakistan, has received global attention. But much more work is still needed to be done to eradicate this brutal act from society. Talking about the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence to me means that we should support courageous women like Nadia in reviving their hopes and let them realize that their existence for this world is even more important than any other person as they are the genuine  symbols of courage and bravery.

Combating gender-based violence is a long-standing goal of the United States Government. The equal participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres is a key ingredient for democratic development. As in other countries, USAID provides critical support to Pakistani institutions and communities working on gender-based violence issues. Central to this effort is USAID’s Gender Equity Program, implemented by the Aurat Foundation, which seeks to build the capacity of governmental and non-governmental organizations throughout Pakistan so that women like Nadia can live a better life.