Pakistani filmmaker and first-time Oscar nominee Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won an Academy Award on Monday for her documentary about acid attack victims, a first for a Pakistani director.
Her victory shines a spotlight on a subject which affects thousands of women in Pakistan and elsewhere, but is seldom discussed at home.
Speaking exclusively to Reuters via telephone from backstage, Chinoy dedicated the award to the women of Pakistan.
The women's "bravery and resilience in the face of adversity inspires me every single day," she said. "They are the true heroes of Pakistan."
'Saving Face' chronicles the work of British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who performed reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan.
Co-director Daniel Junge said he had the idea for the film after hearing about Jawad, and asked Chinoy to work with him. He has been previously nominated for an both an Oscar and an Emmy.
"To win ... and with such a subject -- it's such an honor," he said.
More than 100 people, mainly women and girls, are disfigured in acid attacks every year in Pakistan, although groups helping survivors say many more cases go unreported.
Pakistan is the world's third-most dangerous country for women, after Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo, based on a survey conducted last year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (http://link.reuters.com/jet92s), with acid attacks a common means of punishing alleged transgressions.
Victims are often permanently blinded, and their scar tissue can become infected with septicemia or gangrene.
"The women who decided to be a part of the documentary did so because they wanted to make their voices heard and wanted to bring attention to this form of assault," Chinoy also said, speaking before she won the Oscar.
"The main reason that they are in 'Saving Face' is to make their stories heard and have an impact."
"STORY OF HOPE"
Many victims are women attacked by their husbands, and others assaulted for turning down marriage proposals. In the film, one girl describes how she was burned after rejecting the advances of her teacher. She was 13 at the time.
Another woman featured in the film is 25-year-old Rukhsana, whose husband threw acid on her, and her sister-in-law doused her in gasoline before her mother-in-law lit a match and set her on fire. Her story was left unfinished in the film.
"I spoke with Rukhsana before I left," Chinoy said. "She is trying to make enough money to build her own home for herself and her children without her husband. She's awaiting her final surgery."
'Saving Face' is set to air on American cable television network HBO on March 8, while Junge and Chinoy also plan to show it in Pakistan.
"We're going to try to find the best possible way to show the film while ensuring that the women in the film are safe," she said.
Before attending the ceremony in Los Angeles, Chinoy said she hoped the cases in her film would resonate for others in Pakistan.
"It is a story of hope with a powerful message for the Pakistani audience. I felt this would be a great way to show how Pakistanis can help other Pakistanis overcome their problems," she said.
Chinoy's films have won international acclaim. Her 2010 documentary, 'Pakistan's Taliban Generation', won an International Emmy Award. She said her next project is developing a television series about "people in Pakistan who are doing incredible work and trying to change their communities."
"This win is a testament that Pakistanis can do anything," she added. "We had a global audience and people heard our message. Despite our problems there are people trying to effect change."