Acid-Attack Survivors Hit the Runway at ‘Beauty Redefined’ Show

Dhaka, ActionAid Bangladesh, Today Shonali Khatun, 14, challenged perceptions of beauty as she strutted down the runway at a hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Tuesday. A smiling Shonali opened the show ‘Beauty Redefined’, organized by ActionAid Bangladesh, to applause in a dress designed by famed fashion designer and model Bibi Russell.

Shonali Khatun was only 17 days old when a man poured acid all over her face, while she was asleep at her home in Tala, Shatkhira. Her attacker, a neighbour, had a dispute with her parents over property.

The acid burned the skin on her face and arms and she spent nearly three years after the attack in hospital. Over the years she has had eight operations. Her attacker has been on the run ever since.

Shonali, a student of seventh grade, refused to be a victim and, instead, has championed the fight against acid violence. This was the first time in the world that all 15 models waking the ramp were survivors of acid attack. Bibi Russell’s custom choreography transformed the show into an exclusive event.

The aim of this event is to celebrate the innate strength of women and challenge the conventional perception and standards of Beauty. Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh welcomed to the extraordinary evening which transcend the convention and look at the sheer strength that manifest in the personalities of individuals. She emphasized that it was time to realise that our perception, imagination, emotions and physical sensations of and about our bodies, in relation to values that were not necessarily innate but learned or expected culturally, was extremely patriarchal. Therefore, the runway show, as a part of this international Women’s Day Campaign, was not about promoting fancy brands, profit or reinforcing the established perception of beauty. Rather, it is the boldness and bravery of survivors to bring about positive change, ability to accept others and ourselves just the way we are.

Acid attacks, targeting women and children in particular, are still rampant in Bangladesh, with 44 such incidents alone in 2016. ActionAid Bangladesh has been working with acid survivors for around 17 years and has a significant contribution in bringing the Acid Control Act 2002 and the Acid Crime Prevention Acts 2002 into light, restricting import and sale of acid in open markets. In 2007, AAB facilitated the foundation of Shetu Bondhon Gori network (Let’s Build the Bridge), the first network established by survivors of acid violence, which echoes the same ethos of alternative rehabilitation - building confidence in the survivors and consequently change their perspective of life.

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