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Incredible: Acid attack survivors on ramp in Bangladesh, organised by Br...

In the office of Bangladeshi designer in Dhaka, a group of acid attack survivors are hard at work practicing their moves ahead of a fashion show on the eve of International Women's Day. The fashion show, held on March 7 and hosted by British charity ActionAid, brought together 15 acid attack survivors, including 13 women and two men between the ages of 13 and 43, from across the country. "I just want people to give them opportunity, give them work, so they can live this life with dignity and (feel) they are part of this society," said Bibi Russell, who designed all the clothes in the show. NGOs say acid attacks are a form of gender-based violence that reflects the inequality of women in society. In Bangladesh, such attacks are often used as revenge against a woman who has rejected a marriage proposal or as the result of some sort of conflict related to dowry.

The survival rate is high, but the attack victims are disfigured for life and often need psychological and surgical support to recover. "We all believe that only beautiful women can be models and walk down the ramp, but now I think anybody can be a model, because external beauty is not the main beauty. Being beautiful in the mind is also important," said Nurun Nahar Begum, 37, one of the models. Begum who was attacked due to a family dispute in 1995, travelled from the southwestern district of Satkhira to take part in the show.

"We want everyone to remember the injustice that had been meted out to the acid survivors, and that we don't want to leave anyone behind," said ActionAid country director, Farah Kabir. "They also deserve to enjoy, to laugh, to be happy, to progress, to work, to study, but because of the gender, or because of someone's greed, they were attacked." The youngest participant in the the group, Sonali Khatun, 13, had acid thrown in her face when she was just 17-days-old. She now wants to be a doctor.

"They've come out of that state of despondence as it were, and they've lifted themselves up from that situation, and they're now inspiring us," said one of the show's guests, Syed Refaat Ahmed. In 2002, the Bangladesh government passed acts restricting the import and sale of acid in open markets and instating the death penalty for an acid thrower. Acid attack incidents in Bangladesh peaked in 2002 with 496 cases reported. That figure dropped to 44 last year, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation.

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