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Acid attack survivor Nusrat looks in a mirror at a shelter run by the Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad, Pakistan. She was attacked by her husband and brother-in-law in a family dispute. Photo taken March 8, 2014.
Ann-Christine Woehrl/Edition Lammerhuber
Girls & Women

Why These Acid Attack Survivors Danced Down a London Fashion Show Catwalk

A group of Bangladeshi acid attack survivors has conquered a London catwalk in an inspirational act of defiance against violence against women. 

The eight people — seven women and one man — danced their way down the runway in front of an audience of fashionistas and campaigners for the fashion show. 

But this was about showcasing so much more than just fashion. 

It demonstrated “the inner strength and dignity of survivors who have had the courage to speak out against gender-based violence”, according to organisers of the “Survivors’ Runway” event, ActionAid

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As the group walked the runway, video montages telling their stories and the experiences they have gone through played on the screen behind them. 

The survivors were dressed by former supermodel and UN ambassador Bibi Russell, who designed the outfits for the show. Her fashion label has previously highlighted the diversity of the Bangladesh textile industry. 

One of those walking the runway at Tuesday’s event was 15-year-old Sonali, who was scarred by an acid attack when she was just 17 days old. 

A stranger threw the corrosive liquid into her family home, when she was so young that the acid permanently damaged the shape of her newborn skull. 

Read more: The UK Just Took Action to Ban Liquids Used in Acid Attacks

“I want to set an example of moving forward with good thinking and ask other to recognise — not feel sorry for — what we are doing and stand in solidarity of it,” said another survivor Nurun Nahar, who had to spend two months in hospital and was alienated by her community as a result of a vicious acid attack.

“I hope it will work so that we can stop this practice of throwing acid on women,” she said, reported the Huffington Post . “We want to see all survivors with jobs in the future, earning money for themselves. We also want to make sure that survivors get proper justice.”

She continued: “I hope the survivors can move easily through Bangladesh and that society will accept them as normal people — not just acid victims. I also want to see survivors in government positions; I want to see them in parliament. That is my dream.” 

Read more: Acid Attacks Are on the Rise in London: Here’s What You Should Do If You Witness One

At the end of the show, the models all stood together on the catwalk in a “moment of solidarity”, before inviting members of the audience onto the catwalk to dance with them. 

The event came as part of an ActionAid campaign aiming to “break the silence” and speak out for women who face violence.

Read more: These Powerful Portraits of Acid Attack Victims Tell a Story of Courage and Survival

Girish Menon, ActionAid’s CEO, said: “Globally it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are most affected and it is just one of many forms of violence they face daily — it is important people are aware of this.”

He told the Huffington Post that the increasing number of acid attacks in the UK are leading the media to portray it as a gang-related crime. But he said he is “keen to tell the other side of the story, which shows how acid attacks destroy the lives of women, with many cases going unreported due to fears of revenge.”

Thousands of acid attacks happen every year around the world , and the majority are targeted at girls and women. But few perpetrators are brought to justice. 

Read More: Acid Attack Survivor Walks at New York Fashion Week

In 2014, there were almost 200 reported cases of weaponized acid assaults in the city of London alone. In 2015, that number grew to nearly 300. And last year, there were just under 500 cases, according to numbers released by the Metropolitan Police .

Since 2010, Londoners have reported over 1,800 acid attacks on their streets. Reports indicate that acid has grown into a weapon of choice for some gang members. It has traditionally been easy to obtain, and when employed in an attack leaves virtually no trace of its user.

In response to the growing numbers of attacks, UK politicians have proposed banning the sale of corrosive substances to people under the age of 18.

Currently, those who carry out acid attacks in the UK can be charged with grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent , which carries a maximum life sentence. 

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