“How a Salon Is Empowering Acid Attack Survivors in Pakistan”


Masarrat Misbah, a beautician in Lahore, Pakistan, started the Depilex Smile Again Foundation in 2003 after a woman who came to her salon unveiled herself as an acid attack survivor.

“Imagine a woman literally without a face — someone with no eyes, nose, lips, ears, and hair,” Misbah said. 

Misbah’s objective through the donation-funded nonprofit is to provide vocational training in order to economically empower the acid attack survivors and pay for their reconstructive surgery. Many of the women have dozens of surgeries after being attacked.

Misbah and other beauticians have trained 423 victims in salon work, a full-time program that lasts about four weeks.

“We can only teach them how to do nails, hair, and a little makeup because a lot of them are [partially] blinded from the acid attacks and their eye movement doesn’t allow [them] to work on intricate details,” Misbah said. 

Noreen Jabbar, 32, whose ex-husband threw acid at her in 2014 after she divorced him, told Refinery29 she wants to open her own salon after her training is complete. Jabbar has three daughters and struggles to pay her rent.

Farah Sajjad, 35, said she “had no hope to live” after her sister-in-law attacked her with acid last year. Sajjad’s husband lived abroad and sent money to his entire family; Sajjad said that when he asked her to meet him abroad, his sister feared that he would stop supporting the rest of the family and attacked Sajjad in revenge.

“I am learning salon work to support my family,” she said.

Sabira Sultana, also a survivor, said, “The solution to end this heinous crime is strict implementation of law and strict sentences."

Activists and lawmakers have been working on this for years now. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, passed in 2011, recommended a punishment of up to 14 years in prison and a fine of up to 1 million rupees for perpetrators. 

Local newspaper, The Express Tribune, quoted Valerie Khan Yusufzai, chair of the Pakistan branch of Acid Survivors, as saying the conviction rate rose from 6% before the bill was passed to 18% in 2012. Understandably, many survivors and activists felt this act alone was not enough to prevent acid crimes. 

Enter the Acid and Burn Crime Bill, first proposed in 2012, which was essentially a follow-up to the act, a push to further strengthen penalties for acid attacks. A stronger iteration of the bill has since been reintroduced, and is still pending while activists and lawmakers negotiate on several clauses.


"I Thought I Didn't Have Another Chance Towards Happiness"


It was the day Sarwari Bibi had awaited for more than two decades. Surrounded by friends and family, the 45-year-old Pakistani salon worker dressed in brightly colored clothing and sat patiently as women flitted around her, helping sweep up her hair and apply her makeup. 

But Bibi was no ordinary bride: In 1992, her first husband, then unemployed, told her she was expected to pay the household expenses. When Bibi couldn’t come up with the money, her husband tried to kill her by throwing kerosene at her and lighting her on fire. 

Before her wedding last month to Arshad Ali, Bibi had suffered decades of loneliness and discrimination as a result of her scars, and underwent seven major surgeries. Her life changed when she connected with the Depilex Smile Again Foundation, a group dedicated to victims of domestic violence, and then met Ali. "I thought I didn’t have another chance towards happiness," she told Refinery29.

Sadly, Bibi is far from alone: Hundreds of women and children each year become victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, 
according to the Asia Foundation. The majority are carried out by husbands against their own wives and children, usually over domestic disagreements. And the horrific attacks — which disfigure but rarely kill — don’t just take place in rural areas, but also in major cities. 

On her wedding day, Bibi’s friends and colleagues, many of them also victims of acid and kerosene attacks, were there to celebrate one woman's triumph. That process began in 2008, when she registered with Depilex Smile Again, the staff of which helped with her medical care. Bibi also took one of the foundation's beauty courses, and now works as a beautician at the Depilex salon, earning enough to support herself. 

Ahead, Bibi shares her wedding portraits and her stunning story of love and hope after abuse.


  'We have the same heart': Madison Muslims unite against negative perceptions of Islam


On the morning of June 13, Maysoun Chablout and her husband decided it was best to stay inside.

It was the day after a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando and Chablout, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, feared she would be blamed for the horrific violence if she appeared in public.

“It felt like 9/11 for us Muslims where you couldn’t go outside for three weeks,” said Chablout, who was born in Syria and has lived in Madison for three years. She teaches Arabic studies at Madinah Community Center.

Although Muslims residing in the United States have publicly condemned such attacks as contrary to the teachings of Islam, those same U.S. residents, many of them American citizens, still fear hostile environments that can result when shooters are identified as Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiment is suspected by some to be the motive behind the recent shooting death of an Imam and his assistant in Queens, New York, though that has not been confirmed.

Local Muslims interviewed say they want people to know that Islam is not confined to a society or geographic location. There are 1.6 billion Muslims residing across the globe.

Madison Muslims have migrated from different parts of the world, belong to a wide variety of ethnic groups and are a tightly knit community. They estimate that there are approximately 10,000 Muslims in the Madison area, many of whom attend the area's three mosques, located downtown and on the east and west sides. All of the mosques are former churches. People gather at each of the mosques for Friday afternoon prayers, called Jummah.


While many in Madison’s Muslim population said they don’t experience the same kind of hostility that their Muslim counterparts face in other parts of the country, they point to the media as a primary source of rhetoric that roots Islamophobia among non-Muslims.

“Media is playing a critical role towards portraying Islam in a negative way and sadly it is the prime source of information for the masses,” said Sohail Siraj, owner of Best Brains Learning Center, an academic tutoring business in Madison.

Still, Muslims interviewed say they have found a supportive community here.

“It is important for the whole nation and the city of Madison to know that churches and other organizations reached out to us after all the anti-Islam rhetoric in the media about Muslims to show support,” said Gibril Jarjue, president of the Islamic Center of East Madison. “There is solidarity between Muslims and other faiths in Madison.”

Jarjue said the churches signed a letter in support of the Madison Muslim community.

“I hope other organizations in other cities learn from this kind of unity because we have families and kids here,” Jarjue said. “They are growing and they are Americans.”

On a recent Friday, the Imam leading prayers at the Islamic Center of East Madison quoted from the Quran, the main religious text of Islam, and preached about living in harmony with neighbors despite the challenges of the current political climate.

It is a common theme in the mosque. During the sermon preceding the prayers, Imam Alhagie Jallow, an Islamic scholar, said terrorist attacks carried out across the globe by those who identify as Muslim are not acts of Islam.


“Islam should not be judged as a religion based on one person’s action,” said Jallow, who presides over the Islamic Center of East Madison. “If a terrorist has an Islamic name, the entire world blames the rest of the Muslims and it is painful.”

Islam condemns the killing of human beings, he said. Jallow quoted a verse from the Quran which is translated as: “If a person saves one soul, the reward is for saving the whole world. And if you kill one soul, the consequences and punishment for that is as if you killed the whole world.”

Nizam Nizammuddin, an immigrant from India who has lived in Madison for 45 years, condemned mass shootings such as those in Orlando and San Bernardino, California, calling them barbaric.

“If their interpretation of Islam triggers a derailed thought process, that is their individual problem and misunderstanding of the religion. It does not mean that Islam allows such actions,” Nizammuddin said. “There is no room for such kind of violence.”

Violent acts that the media link with individuals who happen to be Muslim cause shock and grief as well as frustration for local Muslims.

“I was in shock and frustrated at the (Orlando) shooter at the same time for carrying such an attack when Muslims are already portrayed so negatively,” said Akmal Hamid, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student originally from Malaysia.

When she first heard about the mass shooting in Florida, Najeeha Khan, another student at UW-Madison originally from Pakistan, hoped that the perpetrator was not a Muslim.

“Because we have seen it in the past where the media links the attack to Islamic values and we can suffer the consequences and deal with negative comments although we didn’t ask for it,” Khan said.


Khan wears a hijab and prepared herself for negative remarks and more stares than usual after the attack. The traditional headscarf makes it impossible for Muslim women to blend in.

“It is unnerving when people just blatantly keep staring at you in public if you’re wearing a hijab,” said another UW-Madison student, Afra Alam, who was born in Waukesha and is of Bangladeshi descent. “People have such crazy hairstyles, but that’s more acceptable in public than me wearing a scarf over my head.”

The media’s tendency to link Islamic values and terrorism, even indirectly, seems to happen for several reasons, some said.

UW-Madison student Hamid believes that by making that connection, journalists think their stories will be more interesting and more people will read them.

“That is the media’s goal, and people who already antagonize Islam — including politicians — hit the jackpot,” Hamid said.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the UW-Madison, said that when there is a presidential candidate like Donald Trump who establishes narratives against a particular race or religion, it can be hard for journalists to correct that tone.

With breaking news, Culver said, the media needs to slow down.

“They should not immediately make the top question: ‘Is this terrorism? Is this terrorism? Is this terrorism?’ They need to step back and look at the situation as a whole.”

Competitiveness, Culver said, “can lead to some pretty flawed decision-making.”


UW-Madison student Alam feels that the media portrays Muslims in a bad light in order to attract a larger audience.

“The dangerous rhetoric of Islamophobia sparks even more hatred towards Muslims,” she said.

Culver said a lack of diversity in newsrooms also hurts coverage.

“We don’t have people practicing a rich variety of faiths among newsrooms. The average newsrooms are white males from middle to upper class and we see a lot more men than women,” she said.

She said the media should be out talking to people in their community and building trust so that they understand situations like Chablout’s, who did not feel safe leaving her house.

“Those are the things we need to pay attention to as news media and also responsibly report on communities,” she said.

Nihal Ahmad, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said the term “fundamentalist Christian” is never used in the media when a Christian commits a crime.

“The media should not call these terrorists Muslim extremists because they are not Muslim in the first place because they are not following Islam,” Ahmad said.


Imam Jallow thinks the solution is to educate journalists about Islam.

“The media needs to separate what is Islam and what an individual is doing,” Jallow said. “We are Americans and we obey the same law as every other U.S. citizen.”

Focusing on religion neglects real issues behind the crimes, some said.

“If a person has a Muslim name and brown skin color they are automatically called terrorist, unlike many other instances where the shooter gets away by having a mental disability,” said Haddijatou Tunkara, a young Madison Muslim.

Media critics are concerned, Culver said, that once the label of terrorism is applied to Islam, it transforms coverage and people lose sight of the situation and its relationship to other social issues like mental illness.

When Tunkara learned about the Orlando shooting from a Buzzfeed notification on her phone, she was devastated.

“The first thing the media mentioned was that he is a Muslim and not the fact that he might have a mental disability,” Tunkara said.

Tunkara is an advocate for gun control and said that is the issue to focus on: “It shouldn’t be that easy for someone to get a gun and carry out such a heinous attack.”

Culver agreed that the role of guns can be overlooked.


“If you look at cases not just like Orlando or San Bernardino, in fact all cases involving mass killings, we have never really come to terms with as a society to accept the toll of guns in this country,” she said.

The recent attacks have prompted local Muslims to hold interfaith events to inform people about Islam.

Bin Dada, a consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said Muslims should have been reaching out to the community since 9/11.

“We shouldn’t wait for these attacks to happen in order to realize that we need to be more involved in the community,” he said.

Local efforts mirror larger initiatives around the country, such as those by the American Friends Service Committee in Washington, D.C. AFSC collaborates with Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith-based organizations to confront and eliminate Islamophobia.

“Muslim Americans are put in a corner where they are either accused of being terrorists or seen as objects that will be used as insinuating terrorism,” said Raed Jarrar, government relations manager in AFSC’s office of public policy and advocacy.


“We try to fight against legislation that will increase discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said. “Changing the prevailing narrative about Islam and Muslims in the U.S. is very important — about Islam being a foreign religion that is associated with negative values is one of the issues that many organizations are trying to push for. Islam is not a foreign religion to the United States.

“There is no narrative out there that says Muslims Americans are equal to Americans. We should not be holding them to another bar to prove their American-ness and prove they deserve to be in this country.”

Best Brains Learning Center’s Siraj agrees.

“We need to show people we are the same human beings as you are, we have the same heart as you do, and we have the same feelings as you do,” he said.



“A Hopscotch Inadequate System for Homeless Youth in Chicago”


The number of kids without homes attending Chicago Public Schools shot up by almost twenty percent in 2014, but homeless advocacy groups fear there could be thousands more.

New data from CPS reports 22,144 students are living without proper shelter, up 18.6 percent from 2013. Blaming a lack of affordable housing in an expensive city, activists for the homeless say that these figures do not reflect the real problem, since parents might mark down a false address. They also fault the criteria for homelessness, which they say doesn’t factor in children living on the edge of sleeping on a street or in a shelter. CPS did not return multiple requests for comment.

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, all school districts are required to collect data on homeless students and CPS counted students who identified themselves as homeless.

But Lyda Jackson, volunteer coordinator at Cornerstone Community Outreach, a shelter in Uptown, said that number is too low. “There are other families that are too proud, or they do not want people to know they are homeless,” she said.

“There are people who have jobs, but are still homeless and live out of their cars along with children,” said Wanda Hopkins, assistant director, Parents United for Responsible Education.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless analyzes the data collected by CPS and looks for ways to house more students.

Senior Counsel Laurene M. Heybach at the coalition said it gets a breakdown by CPS and look at the poverty rate at each school.

“There are a lot more homeless students than what the CPS records, but it’s primarily the parents saying they have an address, however, they don’t,” said Hopkins.

“Where you see high numbers of impoverished kids but low counts of homelessness, we regard that as a sign that the program is not identifying homeless students and families as they should,” she said.

According to the most recent data on homeless students in public schools across the country by the U.S. Department of Education and 2013 Census Data, one in every 30 children in the U.S. is homeless. From 2012 to 2013 the number of children experiencing homelessness increased by eight percent.

The Education of Homeless Children and Youths (EHCY) program by the U.S. Department of Education allocates funds to states to improve support provided to children facing homelessness. The grants under the McKinney-Vento Act are then distributed to local school districts on a competitive basis.

According to National Center for Homeless Education, 78 percent local school districts were without grants from 2012 to 2013.

“Many high school students over the age of 18 are homeless, because property owners refuse to rent out a place to them because of their age although they have jobs,” said Hopkins.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness differs from that of CPS. HUD does not include homeless youth age 24 and under. HUD has, not historically counted those families that are doubled-up in other people’s houses, as homeless.

Data from the National Center for Homeless Education in its consolidated state performance report indicates 75 percent of residence of homeless students was doubled-up from 2012 to 2013.

“Homeless to me is a person living in a street, car or somewhere, some people say that if a person is sharing an apartment with someone but not sharing utilities is also homeless,” said Hopkins. “I do not agree with that.”

“We've made some dents in getting that HUD definition changed and are moving to improve it,” Heybach said.

The McKinney-Vento act only requires public schools to identify homeless students who have said they are homeless.

CPS should analyze the situation of every student who is not located or withdrawn, Heybach said. “An important policy change would be for CPS to get out of the building and find more of these kids,” she said.

“The numbers are alarming, but we know there are more children that need to be located and re-engaged,” Heybach added.

Heybach added that CPS should provide "hot data" on school absences -- same day information -- so that staff can immediately look for missing homeless students and get them assistance.

“CPS should analyze data on homeless students as to the number of selective enrollment applications in schools. It should see the effectiveness of the program, and eventually do a substantive assessment on how to target more homeless students,” Heybach said.

Hopkins, with PURE, says schools should hold workshops to create awareness among parents and motivate them to identify themselves as homeless.

“Once parents identify themselves as homeless, CPS is bound to take let their children in without even documentation or waiting list,” said Hopkins.

CPS serves homeless students through the Students in Temporary Living Situations program. The program offers services such as free and reduced lunch programs, school fee waivers, before and after school programs and school supplies.

Youth workers who are specially trained and working in high schools have been effective in identifying and reaching out to homeless youth, she said. The program needs to hire at least six more such staff to fulfill its goals, Heybach said.

CPS must provide more extensive media information to enable students and families to know about the district’s program for homeless youth, she said.

Homelessness is caused because of factors out of which housing remains one of the most important. 

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless analyzes living arrangements of homeless students, total homeless students broken out by disability; total number missing and "not located"; more recently, attendance and truancy data.

PURE is an advocacy group that assists parents that have issues around schools, homelessness and issues related to a child’s well being.

Heybach said the agency uses the data to argue for more housing and shelter. The coalition emphasizes the extent of true homelessness by pointing out the huge number of families that can't get their own housing and must double up in overcrowded conditions. “So that helps us press for housing solutions,” Heybach said.

Hopkins says the solution lays in more affordable housing in the city of Chicago. “Chicago is an expensive city and that forces people towards homelessness due to lack of low-income property,” said Hopkins.

“If there is enough affordable housing, people especially with homeless children will not have to wait for the CHA waiting list,” she said. “The city should provide resources to property owners so that property is used as home to the homeless. 

CPS was contacted many times for a statement, however, they did not respond to the request.