Acid attacks are a horrific reality that disproportionately affects women. 70 per cent of acid attack survivors are women, with 80 per cent of the attacks sickeningly perpetrated in the survivor’s own home. The attacks leave behind not only physical scars, but emotional trauma that women must carry throughout their lives. This week, leading international charity ActionAid organized Survivor’s Runway, a fashion show in London. The show featured eight brave acid attack survivors aiming to break the silence by speaking out against violence towards women and girls, while giving confidence and hope to fellow survivors.
The clothes for the event were designed by UN ambassador and Bangladeshi fashion designer Bibi Russell. Originally inspired by “Beauty Redefined,” a fashion show put on in Bangladesh intended to challenge traditional perceptions of beauty and celebrate survivors, ActionAid decided to make the program international. These events aren’t just lip service — they inspire real change. In 2002, after an ActionAid campaign, new legislation was put into effect controlling the sale and import of acid, reducing the attacks in Bangladesh from 400 to 100 a year.
Among some of the models in the show were Sonali, 15, NurunNahar, 35, and Jasmen, 30. At just 17 days old, baby Sonali was attacked by an intruder who threw acid on her and both her parents. NurunNahar was attacked by her ex-husband when she refused to live with him and his new wife, while Jasmine was the victim of a man she used to refer to as an “uncle.”
“We want to remind everyone that this injustice could happen to any of us,” Farah Kabir, Country Director for ActionAid Bangladesh told the Evening Standard.
On Tuesday, I managed to attend the Survivors’ Runway. A fashionshow where eight survivors of acid attacks from Bangladesh walked the runway and raised their voices for survivors of violence, and breaking the culture of silence for all women and girls who live in fear of violence. Hosted by ActionAid, the models wore richly colourful designs by Bibi Russell. Celebrating the courage and resilience of those who speak out against gender-based violence. It was a truly humbling, and incredibly uplifting evening. . . #withwomensurvivors @actionaiduk #survivorsrunway #actionaid #london #fashionrunway #bangladesh #fashionshow #bibirussell #bangladeshi #acidattack #rodweyphotography.com
“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.”
All three courageous women have rebuilt their lives in very meaningful ways and hope to inspire action through the show. “After seeing [the show], many people might be interested to help in treatment of survivors,” Sonali told Refinery29.
NurunNahar aims to motivate fellow survivors towards success and healing. “I hope one day they can have even more success than me and be something even bigger and shine even brighter,” she said. “I always say this to them: ‘You feel so hopeless and demoralized, but look at me, and you can get your inspiration or your energy.”