Islamabad: Pakistan’s government honored on Monday the country’s first filmmaker to win an Oscar: the director of a documentary on the plight of female victims of acid attacks in this conservative society.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the prize for the documentary Saving Face, which chronicles a London-based plastic surgeon who travels to Pakistan to treat women who have had acid thrown on them. The attacks are often carried out by angry husbands or spurned lovers.
“Last night was important for Pakistan to have this victory more than anything else,” Obaid-Chinoy said. “It feels amazing to be able to (bring) such an important issue to such a global audience and to be recognised for it.”
While Pakistan’s media and political parties can often be sensitive to criticism, the prestige of an Oscar appears to have outweighed any qualms the government might feel about celebrating a film that shows the country in a bad light to international audiences.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that Obaid-Chinoy would receive a civil award for her accomplishment.
“The pride of Pakistan is in their artistes & intellectuals. Not in bombs and bans!” tweeted liberal columnist Nadeem Paracha.
The director for her part praised the resilience and bravery of the women documented in the film during her acceptance speech in Los Angeles. She dedicated the award to all women working for change in Pakistan.
“Don’t give up on your dreams,” said Obaid-Chinoy, who co-directed the documentary with Daniel Junge.
Mistreatment of women is widespread in Pakistan, a conservative nation of some 175 million where most people are poor, only half the adults can read, and extremist ideologies such as that of the Taliban are gaining traction.
In 2010, at least 8,000 acid attacks, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women were reported, according to The Aurat Foundation, a local nonprofit. Because the group relied mostly on media reports, the figure is likely an undercount.
The Pakistani government recently stiffened the punishment for acid burnings in a landmark set of laws passed by parliament. They mandated that convicted attackers serve a minimum sentence of 14 years, and pay a minimum fine of about $11,200.
Pakistan is not the only country dealing with such brutality. The rest of the sub-continent, also has thousands of women mentally and physically scarred by acid attacks.