March 28, 2007
Article: Ethiopia acid victim shows many women are at risk
By Andrew Heavens
The acid hit the 21-year-old's eyes, nose, mouth, forehead and chest, splashing onto the faces and backs of her sisters beside her, burning flesh wherever it touched.
Though an isolated case, the attack has horrified Ethiopia's reserved and conservative society and cast a searing light on a hidden culture of violence against women.
"This isn't just a crime against Kamilat," said Assefa Kesito, Ethiopia's minister of justice, who visited her bedside.
"This is a crime committed against the state of Ethiopia. A crime committed against my daughter, my sister, my mother."
The attack -- allegedly by a man who had been stalking Kamilat -- came amid recent advances for women's rights in Ethiopia. But official improvements are just part of the story.
A 2005 report by the World Health Organisation found just over 70 per cent of Ethiopian women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship had suffered some sort of physical or sexual violence. Sixty-five per cent said it was acceptable to beat a wife for not finishing her housework.
Dr Elaine Rocha, a professor at Addis Ababa University's Institute of Gender Studies, said this was the first acid attack she had come across in Ethiopia, but added it fits a pattern of violence against women in the country.
"It is only the most extreme cases like this that ever come out into the open," she added. "A woman is taught to tolerate abuse from a very, very early age. We could be talking about beating, abduction, harmful traditional practices like genital mutilation. The only time she might talk about it is when her life is at risk."
Kamilat is now being treated in a specialist hospital in Paris, France -- sent there by the country's richest man, entrepreneur Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi, who stepped in to pay for her treatment amid reports her life may be in danger.
"It's hard because every day they do something, and there's no anaesthetic," she told Reuters at the Addis Ababa hospital where she was treated before being moved to France.
Acid attacks against women have been recorded in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, three cities in Britain and Uganda, according to the British charity Women at Risk. Some people fear they may be on the rise.
Ethiopia has made significant advances to protect women's rights in recent years: it has its first Minister of Women's Affairs and overhauled legislation on rape, female genital mutilation and other offences.
"There have been big advances. But there is still a problem with enforcing these new laws," said Mahdere Paulos, executive head of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association.
Mahdere said improvements depend on training police officers and changing female self-perceptions: "They would always see the man or the husband as a father who has a right to discipline his wife like he would discipline a child. It is the culture."
Research suggests acid attacks can happen when a woman either ends a relationship or rejects a suitor, said Marren Akatsa-Bukachi, executive director of the Kampala-based East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women, adding that such attacks are quite common in Uganda.
"I've been there two and a half years and I have come across more than 10 cases," she said at a conference on domestic violence in Addis Ababa.
"It seems to be a growing trend. They come and knock on your door, or say 'Let's meet to talk this over'. Then they put acid on your face. They are so bitter. They are thinking 'If I can't have you then no one can.'
"In East Africa we are patriarchal and that means that women are more or less invisible. In many traditions a sign of love was an occasional slap to your wife. And the wives who were not slapped used to complain to their friends," she said.
Kamilat and her sisters were attacked on January 6: her story only hit headlines after her family decided to go public about it to raise funds for her treatment.
The acid burnt almost all the skin from Kamilat's face, scorched off an inch of her hairline and destroyed most of her eyelids. She has to wear a bandage to go to sleep.
National television appealed for donations and gave regular updates on her condition. Star athlete Haile Gebreselassie queued with government ministers to visit her bedside.
"It has taken her this long to gather up the courage to tell everyone about it," family friend Yemenesh Negash said.
"She is very strong. She has big dreams - she's a visionary. She wants everyone to know what happened."
Yemenesh said Kamilat had recognised her attacker as a man who had obsessively stalked her for the past four years.
"He used to follow her around, then phone her and say 'I can see you drinking coffee,'
Posted by aheavens at March 28, 2007 5:12 AM
It's horrible and sad to learn this is happening in Ethiopia. I am deeply sadden by this.
Is the attacker captured? The government must take this matter serious. And those who commit such acts should seriously be punished.
Hope she will recover from this and pursue her dream.
Posted by: abyssinia at March 28, 2007 8:59 PM
I hope this time the attacker won't be a brother of some body (who is Tegaday) as that of Hermela and will remain above the law at least for this time. If that is the case how hurting will it be for those Ethiopian who are facing similar abuse by brothers of Tegaday’s.
Posted by: Kumneger at March 29, 2007 7:26 AM
I think a normal and sane person wouldn't do such a horrific act. This is a typical psychotic case and has to be treated mentally. There are so many cases like this one that are left unattended. It is in our recent memory that the girl Hermela has been abused and stalked for years until the stalker is finally killed when he tried to escape on his way to a court. While condemning such acts and also try to legislate bills protecting female's rights, it is also useful to look into the sanity of such individuals and try to protect them from harming themselves and others. Teddy
Posted by: Teddy at March 31, 2007 9:19 AM
horrible, sorry for her. But why did she stay silent for all four years while the stalker was even treatening her to kill? She could have effectively avoided the tragedy if she acted on time. Any explaination for that.
Posted by: Ato Gebre at April 2, 2007 2:07 PM
It is very sad and heart breaking to see this , I am touched to my core by this , specially for it to be happening in beloved country, Ethiopia
I pray for young lady and her family , As far the person who did it , I HOPE GOD PUNISHES HIM WHILE HE IS ALIVE AND AFTER LIFE , ,
as far as Al-Amoudi and what he did for this young lady on behalf of all Ethiopian , I THANK YOU
Posted by: sara at April 3, 2007 4:14 AM
i am very sad when i see , i pray to her to fell bater
Posted by: andoalem at April 21, 2007 4:19 AM
hi im feel so sorry for u im disfigured by a skin diease i just stay in my bedroom all day its so upsetting as i have a family and they have to look after me every day seems forever i used to be so happy but now every day i hate all my love maria
Posted by: maria at May 15, 2007 9:33 PM
iam very sad when isee the picture i hope god punishes him while he is alive and after life
Posted by: ermias at May 17, 2007 7:09 PM
Oh My God....I saw an article about this story, in an Ethiopian newspaper, and I do not read Amharic, and just felt so compelled as to what happened to this gal. So now I have found the story here. It just tears right into the core of my heart...whomever did this to her is a MONSTER, and NOT human. I will pray for her, and that she will be strong and accomplish all her dreams, and be surrounded by people who are supportive and positive:)
Posted by: Mariam at October 16, 2007 11:53 PM
the people who used to throw acid towards some1face should be hanged...
Posted by: Naibur Rahman at February 1, 2008 9:14 AM
It is time the government take responsibility for the actions of violence against women. Until it becomes a law men will feel they have the right t o do what they want to women. This is a sin against God. When will Ethiopia stretch her hands unto God and turn from their wicked ways.
Posted by: Meheret selassie-yoseph at September 24, 2008 3:15 PM
a man does throws acid should have acid poured on his penis
Posted by: kim at October 17, 2008 4:20 PM
Oh my lord that is horrible! I think it's time the Ethiopian government take action for this preposterous situation. As a person everyone deserves equal rights.
Posted by: Mintamir at December 18, 2009 5:31 PM