Masarrat Misbah: A messiah for acid burn victims | Pakistan Today

Masarrat Misbah: A messiah for acid burn victims

In conversation with Masarrat Misbah

“I still remember when a girl walked into my salon in a burqa. Thinking she was a beggar, I told her to come back the next day. It was only after she removed her veil, I saw that she had lost one eye and the nose. Her chin and neck were constricted together,” said Masarrat while talking to DNA.

Masarrat Misbah is Pakistan’s well-known beautician-turned-philanthropist who needs no introduction. She is one of the first beauty experts to introduce the trend of professional beauty salons in the country. She started Depilex Institute, which became one of the biggest beauty training institutes in Pakistan with internationally qualified staff.

With time she got inspired to incorporate the idea of ‘beauty with a cause’ with Depilex Smile Again Foundation after successfully running Depilex for years. She used this initiative to help acid attack victims and remove the stigma attached to it.

“I still remember when a girl walked into my salon in a burqa. Thinking she was a beggar, I told her to come back the next day. It was only after she removed her veil, I saw that she had lost one eye and the nose. Her chin and neck were constricted together,” said Masarrat while talking to DNA.

“I took that girl to the hospital and thought that if I could help one girl, maybe I could help more too. So an advertisement was placed in a few newspapers to report to a hospital on so and so date, for a free medical checkup. To my surprise, 42 girls showed up at Depilex.”

For a girl visiting a beauty salon, where it’s all about a woman’s vanity and her beauty, Masarrat said that it was about time to do something about the women in our society. This is how the Smile Again Foundation came into existence in 2003. It was recognised as an NGO in 2005. Thinking about the difficulties faced by the victims while eating, going to the washroom, lying in a government hospital all naked covered with white cream, a cage and sheet on top of her was just unbearable for her.

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It has become the Corporate Social Responsibility of the Foundation to look after women who have been burnt and mutilated and rehabilitate them for their betterment. “It took a lot of time to get where I am today, to be brave and adapt to this, but I got there and I am glad I did,” she said.

The founder further added that it has become their duty to help girls achieve their goals; if not all then whatever is in their capability; they try to do their best.

Misbah recommends that the lawmakers should do more to support the cause and if an NGO can do it, then they can too. This heinous act of burning women or dousing them in acid needs to be stopped.

Ever since its inception, Smile Again has helped girls and as of now, they have more than 766 girls registered with them, all of them are going through different stages of their procedures. Even though there are many that haven’t been able to reach the Foundation or vice versa; they do not stop looking for victims who need their assistance. Even today there are women who face such tragedies and it needs to be stopped, and we need to help them.

While talking about the time-span of the treatment Misbah said, “A girl on an average has to go through 25-35 surgeries to look better.”

“By rehabilitating them, we help them develop a skill, regain their confidence and help them realise that it’s not about being beautiful, a burden to the family, but about being a strong, independent woman.”

Most of the cases come from the south Punjab side. However, there are cases in bigger cities too, like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The reasons most commonly cited are the refusal to marriage, dowry, sometimes it’s due to having only a female heir, and sometimes women fall victims to unprovoked enmities. In Pakistan, women are still being burnt with kerosene oil or acid and suffering for something that is not their fault.

Despite the laws, the perpetrators still go unpunished, because the victims’ family compromise at times. The relatives settle the matter with money, not realising that the small amount will never bring their daughter back to normal life. And at times when a girl is dying, she is asked to pardon these people, but it’s still the responsibility of the state to punish the criminal, which never happens.

Within Pakistan, for her untiring efforts as a beautician, entrepreneur, social worker and philanthropist, she has received several exalted awards. In April 2010, she was also honoured with the Presidential Award for Pride of Performance.

In addition to that, Masarrat Misbah is the first Pakistani woman to receive awards by the Italian government on Women’s Day for her courage and commitment.

When asked about how the victims are chosen to be a part of the Foundation, Misbah said, “We don’t pick them up, we get them identified by reading about them, or watching them on television.”

Not only that they receive calls from hospitals telling them about the victims as well.

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“Our next step is to go there and ensure them that we are there to help them. Sometimes they agree and sometimes they don’t,” she said.

“If the girl survives, they come back to us, register themselves and start with the procedures.”

If there are 40 operations to be held for a girl, they cannot be done in a year, so it is at least a 3-year long procedure.

“As soon as their limbs start working, we start training them, any skill they want. If they want to continue with their studies, we help them to make independent persons out of them. For instance, a blind girl can be given a cow to milk, she doesn’t need to be educated or need to see to do this task,” Masarrat said.

For training, Smile Again has collaborated with different NGOs that provide skill development and training. For legal aid, they get hold of organisations that could help.

Helping victims can be difficult at times because it’s not only the financial or medical treatment they need, there is also a need for psychological assistance.

There are many cases where the girls don’t survive or are very suicidal.

“This should be done regularly, but unfortunately due to lack of funds, we cannot ask them to come and see the doctor every week, though they should, but we do not have the funds,” Misbah said.

“The funds we receive are from friends and families and individuals, which need to be spent wisely. So, for us, it is more important to revive their organs and save their lives. As they regain their confidence and be independent,” she added.

When asked about if Smile Again Foundation helps any male victims, Masarrat said that the number of cases where men are doused in acid is comparatively less as compared to women.

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“Not only that, men could still get a role in the society, get a job, get to ride a bike, but girls are not allowed to do all that,” she said.

What needs to be done by the government right now is that after recognising and appreciating the work done for this cause, they should make sure that the laws are implemented, if they cannot financially support the Foundation.

Misbah recommends that the lawmakers should do more to support the cause and if an NGO can do it, then they can too. This heinous act of burning women or dousing them in acid needs to be stopped.

“There should be awareness campaigns and advertisements on media, where everyone is taught to respect women, not to hit or rape or burn her. This needs to be projected out loud,” Misbah said. “I wish and hope that I am able to stop this crime to an extent where it is eradicated”.

“Hopefully in the future girls would not be victims of such tragedies for refusing to marry against their will and will have more liberty and independence to make their own decisions,” Masarrat concluded.

Saneela Jawad

The author is a member of the staff. Her interests lie in culture, fashion and highlighting social injustices. She's also on a mission to end hunger with the initiative Tiffin Point. She tweets at @SaneelaJawad Email: [email protected]



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