Acid attacks against women have been increasingly reported in Bangladesh since the early 1980s. Acid attacks involve the splashing of acid (car battery or sulfuric acid) on the face and/or body of victims. While initially such cases were reported sporadically, since the mid-1990s, partly because of improved media coverage, there has been a steady rise in the number of cases reported in newspapers. At present, NGOs and government reports put total cases at about 300 annually. It is a common misconception that acid attacks against women are peculiar to Bangladesh, and that attackers are Islamic fundamentalists who punish women for "immodest" behavior (Anwary 2003). Historical evidence demonstrates that acid attacks were common in England and the U.S. in the 1800s, but declined once the police and court systems were strengthened. Such attacks are also reported in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, and Ethiopia (Swanson 2002). In the national context of Bangladesh, the rise in acid attacks needs to be understood not only in relation to existing gender inequality but also within its complex and shifting socioeconomic, political, and cultural processes as they intersect with neoliberal development policies and globalization.
The intent behind attacking women on the face is to permanently scar and disfigure but not to kill. The assumption behind the attack is women's most valuable asset is her appearance. This is an attempt by rejected male suitors to ruin the woman's marriage prospects and thus financial security and social status. Because women are considered bearers of tradition and honor, it is on their bodies that contestations over gender, ownership, and power are played out. Perpetrators often attack their victims at home in the middle of the night. Because family members tend to sleep together, they are also burnt in many cases. Victims can be blinded, and suffer loss of hearing, making it difficult to return to school or find employment. The scars—both physical and emotional—are permanent. Social reintegration is difficult, and victims are often isolated, if not wholly rejected by their families and communities. Recent interventions by state, NGO, women's movement activists, and international aid agencies have begun to mobilize a collective response to acid attacks against women and girls in Bangladesh.