The death of Fakhra Younus last month reignited international outcry concerning the plight of Pakistani women who are the victims of an unbelievably brutal practice — acid attacks on women. Younus, a once beautiful woman, was allegedly attacked by her then-husband Bilal Khar, in May 2000. The attack left Younus horribly disfigured. Her caretaker reported that she often feared that Younus would die in the night because she could not breathe. “We used to put a straw in the little bit of her mouth that was left,” she said, “because the rest was all melted together.” After the attack, the Italian government offered Younus asylum, paid for her treatment, and provided money for her to live. Younus endured more than three dozen surgeries and hoped to one day return to Pakistan to reopen her case and fight for justice. However, on March 17, the horribly disfigured Younus decided life was no longer worth living and jumped to her death from her sixth-story apartment. She was laid to rest in Karachi, Pakistan on March 25.
The story of Fakhra Younus is only one among the thousands of similar stories that emerge from Pakistan annually. According to The Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organization, more than 8,500 acid attacks and other forms of violence against women were reported n Pakistan in 2011. This foundation also reported an increase of 37.5 percent in the number of acid throwing incidents in the country. Acid is a weapon of choice for revenge against women by their husbands, by suitors whose marriage proposals or sexual advances are rejected, or in cases of unmet demands for dowry. In many cases, the attackers often appear to operate with impunity and are not brought to justice. In the case of Bilal Khar, Younus’ ex-husband, many believe the he used his powerful political connections to escape accountability.
Time will tell what impact the outcry over Younus’ death will have on the Pakistani government to do more to prevent acid attacks and other forms of inhumane acts of violence and brutality against women. The Pakistani government should be embarrassed that Younus was embraced by and found help in the arms of the Italians rather than in their own arms. The Aurat Foundation reported that Younus believed that “the system in Pakistan was never going to provide her with relief or remedy” and that she “was totally disappointed that there was no justice available to her.” These beliefs became the breeding ground for the despair that eventually led Younus to take her own life. However, just because Younus did not see justice in her lifetime does not mean that justice will not be served. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Impunity is a temporary condition.
On a deeper level, the kind of violent attacks that women in Pakistan, and in other places around the world, suffer are the result of an impoverished or nonexistent understanding of the sanctity of human life. It is unquestionably dangerous to be a woman in certain geographical contexts. A 2011 poll conducted by TrustLaw, a Thomas Reuters Foundation Service, identified Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia as the most dangerous places for women. Shame on these countries! Fakhra Younus did not deserve to have acid poured on her face and she did not deserve to die. Tehmina Durrani, the woman who cared for Younus following the attack, said of Younus, “Her life was a parched stretch of hard rock on which nothing bloomed.” My prayer is that something good will bloom and that her death will not be in vain. Perhaps Younus’ blood mingled with the blood of other victims will become the seed of justice that will blossom in places where the powerful treat the weak with indignity. Time will tell.