How This Acid Attack Survivor Found Courage
One organisation that knows all too well the challenges faced by individuals like Mi Mi is Akhaya Women, a pioneering group based in Yangon. They have been championing women’s rights since 2008, and are now working with Mi Mi.
Founder Daw Htar Htar says the lack of a law to protect women only builds on the cultural norm of silence in the face of abuse.
Last year, she told a local news organisation: “Domestic violence exists everywhere, and is part of normal life in Myanmar; we don’t discuss rape, and we don’t report it.”
But her organisation is committed to changing this, through landmark cases like Mi Mi’s, and by working with the government on drafting the long-delayed law to tackle violence against women.
“One of our objectives with this campaign is to pass this law, as soon as possible,” her colleague, Nan Sandi Moon, tells me.
However, the legal process won’t come cheap – and neither will Mi Mi’s treatment. Mi Mi’s parents are rubber farmers and, before the attack, Mi Mi had a job as well. But now neither she nor her father, who was also hit in the attack, can work because of their injuries.
Mi Mi’s total medical costs are estimated at £12,500; legal costs could add at least £3,500 to that amount.
Akhaya will step in to pay the legal costs, and have also launched a campaign – mainly on Facebook, which is very popular in Myanmar – to raise the rest of the money for Mi Mi’s treatment. So far, they have raised £2,000 from other concerned Burmese women and organisations, including nuns and banks. It’s an impressive total, considering Myanmar is a very poor country – but they need more.
For her part, Mi Mi says she can hardly find the words to thank the people helping her.
“Otherwise I couldn’t get any money, any justice, or any treatment,” she says.
The treatment will be an arduous process and could take up to five years, costing millions of Burmese kyat. But Akhaya and Mi Mi’s campaign isn’t just about money. It’s also about awareness.
“We set up the campaign to let people know the survivor’s difficulties and emotions, and to get support for her treatment,” says Nan Sandi Moon.
“It is also for behaviour change – to change social norms that encourage ‘daring’ behaviour from boys, which can lead to violent behaviour.”
For Mi Mi, the attack formed part of a pattern after she and her ex split up.
“He once said: ‘I will make your life a living hell, I will make you feel dead while you are alive.’ I knew something would happen one day,” she says.
Mi Mi has already faced him in court as legal proceedings get under way, although he has yet to make an official appearance. In fact, he snuck in to jeer at her while she gave evidence.
“The court did not tell me that he was behind me, because they thought I might be scared,” says Mi Mi.
“The judge immediately ordered him to leave, but I intentionally turned around to stare at him. I am not scared of him. At all.”
But for all her bravado – “I’m not afraid, because [the acid attack], it’s already the worst thing he could do” – Mi Mi found it hard to appear in front of the crowds.
“I didn’t want to go,” she admits. “There were so many people looking at me, all just staring. I felt like I had no power to stand in front of them. I wanted to disappear.”
But Mi Mi is brave.
“Some people have said to me, it’s ok, you don’t have to do this – but even when he threw acid at me, I didn’t cry. I didn’t shout. I just stayed quiet,” she says.
She isn’t staying quiet anymore.
“The acid attack was unbearable. This attack will be with me for life. If he goes to jail for a long time, it will scare off other potential attackers,” she says.
If you would like to make a donation towards Mi Mi’s medical and legal costs, please click here.