LONDON: A group of Bangladeshi acid attack victims took to the stage at a London fashion show in an awe inspiring act of defiance against violence towards women.
The eight volunteers, who have all been subjected to violence or attacks themselves, stepped onto the catwalk at the Survivors’ Runway in a “moment of solidarity” together.
Dressed in bright, colourful clothing the the women, men and one teenager danced in front of an audience of fashionistas and campaigners to raise awareness for the plight of victims.
The event was part of an ActionAid campaign aiming to “break the silence” and speak out for women who face violence around the world.
Among those who took to the runway was 15-year-old Sonali, who was scarred by an acid attack when an intruder threw corrosive liquid into her family home when she was just 17 days old.
Sonali, whose fragile new-born skull was misshapen by the attack, credits ActionAid with helping her to stay in education when she wanted to leave because other children at her school made fun of her.
She joined others at the event, celebrating women’s rights, including one woman who was attacked by her husband when she, aged just 13, refused to go and visit his new wife.
The group of inspirational victims were dressed by former supermodel and UN ambassador Bibi Russell, who designed the outfits for the show.
“My involvement is a tribute to people who have experienced such terrible acts of violence. I want to see them be respected, have equal rights and be included in society,” Ms Russell said.
“Above all I want to see that their human dignity is restored, this is the most important thing. I have seen their sparkle and beauty and I want to help show this to the world. I ask everyone, please give them a chance.”
According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women around the world are subjected to some kind of violence.
This can take the form of domestic abuse, sexual harassment, rape as a weapon of war, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and acid attacks.
The charity said that, around the world, violence specifically targeting women and girls is “rooted in deeply entrenched patriarchal norms” around restricting women’s control over their bodies and lives.
And in Bangladesh, acid attacks are particularly prevalent. In 2002, following an ActionAid campaign, legislation was introduced to control the sale of substances, bringing the yearly number of attacks down from 400 to under 100.
But figures show that 70 per cent of all victims are women and 80 per cent of attacks take place in the victims’ home.
“Unfortunately, in Bangladesh we have acid violence because of gender discrimination and greed,” Farah Kabir, Country Director for ActionAid Bangladesh said.
“We want to remind everyone that this injustice could happen to any of us.
“It’s vital that we act together to make our women and girls secure and live with dignity – we cannot sit back and accept such a heinous crime.”