Most of us associate beauty parlours with the quest for perfection. But Pakistani entrepreneur Mussarat Misbah is using her salons to help rehabilitate the female survivors of acid attacks.
Mussarat is the founder of the Depilex Smile Again Foundation – the charity she set up after an encounter with a disfigured victim in 2003.
Mussarat explains: ‘As I was about to leave my office, a young girl walked in and she was wearing a veil and she asked me to help her and I thought maybe she’s one of those girls who’s asking for financial help and support.
‘I asked her to come the next day as I was going home and then she removed her veil and that was the day which changed my life.
‘The girl in front of me was a woman without a face. She had lost her eyes, she had lost her nose, her neck was contracted to her chest.’
Dipilex Smile Again Foundation works with acid attack survivors, not only providing them with medical and psychological care, but also helping them once again become self-reliant members of the community.
‘On average they need to go through 25 surgeries to make them look better,’ says Mussarat, ‘and then I also realised that giving them surgeries is not helping their misery, is not helping their pain because they are left to rot in their houses like vegetables. They are treated like modern day lepers.’
Over the last decade, she has helped around 600 women, with most electing to be trained as beauticians as they feel safe in the female-only world.
‘All 600 girls cannot work at Dipilex but some of the girls have actually started their own businesses in their own small houses,’ says Mussarat proudly.
Aneesha Zoya and Bushra Shafi are both acid attack survivors who work in the salon.
Aneesha says: ‘After this tragedy of getting burnt, I had a feeling that I am not the same person anymore. I stopped venturing out of my house. I stopped meeting people as well. I stopped attending any gatherings and functions. After coming here, Mussarat Misbah helped me a lot. First she made me undergo surgeries for my face and then I did a course to become a beautician.’
‘After coming here, my life changed completely,’ says Bushra. ‘Mussarat taught me confidence. She taught me how to face the world. She made me believe that I have the ability to cope with anything and anyone.’
Acid attacks continue to be a problem in Pakistan, with women burned for everything from having a female child to offering too small a dowry.
Mussarat says: ‘Making laws will never curb a crime, it will never stop a crime, it’s only the implementation which is important and how do we do that? The government has to take stern actions against these perpetrators.
‘Sometimes it seems the incidents are on a decrease then all of a sudden you will see in one month there are five girls been attacked with acid. So I think there is much more than what is being reported.
‘To me, these girls are our heroes. You must salute them.’