From Dhaka to Cincinnati
Tracing the Trajectory of a Transnational Violence
against Women Campaign
ELORA HALIM CHOWDHURY
In September 2000, I received a phone call from Bina inviting me to an event honoring television journalist Connie Chung and her ABC 20/20 team for the Amnesty International Media Spotlight Award.1 Chung and her team were receiving this award for the report “Faces of Hope,” which had aired nationally in the United States in November 1999 and featured the experiences of two young Bangladeshi women, Bina Akhter and Jharna Akhter. The event was hosted by ABC producers and would take place at the Yale Club in New York. A number of Bina's friends had been invited. “It would be my pleasure,” I told Bina, “to see my old friend, and to witness such a momentous occasion honoring her story.” Bina and Jharna (no relation to each other) would be flying in from Cincinnati, Ohio, where they lived with their American host family.
“Faces of Hope” had reported on a growing epidemic of acid attack on women in Bangladesh. It informed the American prime-time viewers that the incidence of acid throwing had become highly prevalent among lower socioeconomic groups in both Bangladeshi urban and rural areas. The reporters also noted that the perpetrators were mostly young men and adolescent boys, whereas the targets were primarily females between twelve and twenty-five years of age. While this profile of targets and perpetrators was accurate in the late 1990s when ABC produced its report, in early 2000 there had been a dramatic change. By 2003, acid throwers of both genders were attacking women, children, and even men. Nonetheless, in the late 1990s as well as 2003, females were overwhelmingly the victims of acid throwing, attacked for reasons ranging from rejection of sexual advances, refusal of marriage proposals, family or land disputes, vengeance, and unmet dowry demands (UNICEF 2000).
“Faces of Hope” had an angle expected to give it immediacy for the American viewers. The 20/20 report focused, in particular, on the compelling story of a courageous young girl, Bina Akhter, whose strength and tenacity facing unimaginable