|Who are you wearing that perfume for?
I am stronger, wiser and better
By Yalda Bidar
July 16, 2002
Maria Rashidi is a survivor of violence against women; violence in its crudest
form. On September 19, 1997, a man whom Maria believes was hired by her ex-husband,
threw acid on her face in front of her home in Stockholm, Sweden.
When I first met Maria two years ago, I felt a tremendous sense of sympathy. Her
beautiful face had been deformed. Although she couldn't quite see my facial expressions,
she recognized my feelings towards her from the tone of my voice.
"I love life," Maria told me with pride. She told how this incident has
made her into a women's rights activist. I soon realized that Maria Rashidi has chosen
a different path in life: instead of feeling sorry for herself, she has embraced
life with all her force and has given it a completely new meaning by publicly
talking about violence against women.
Q: how did you get married? What were the circumstances?
I knew my former husband, Abdolrahman
Abbbaspour, since childhood. He was a family member. As a teenager, he was in
love with Dariush, the Persian pop singer. I remember people used to say he was a
very "najib" (honorable) man.
We were around the same age. He is 47 now. I grew up in a close nit family. I loved
my mom and as a child, I remember my fear and desperation as I watched her beaten
by my father occasionally. When my mother died in 1978, my father insisted that I
get married. My ex-husband offered support as I was mourning my mother's death. He
told me he is in love with me and will do anything to protect me and care for me.
It was evident to me that my father wanted to get rid of me. He had gotten married
with a girl years junior to him and he just couldn't care about me any more. So,
I got married two weeks after my mother passed away. Before I knew it, I was pregnant
with my first child in 1979. I bore two more children, two girls and one boy in the
Q: What was your ex-husband's occupation?
He was a school principle in Khoramabad in the province of Lorestan. During the Iran-Iraq
war, he volunteered for services. He went to front line and worked as an ambulance
driver. He joined the basij - the volunteer army. I worked as a school teacher.
Q: When and why did you migrate to Sweden?
The Iran-Iraq war was taking its toll on us. We
had three kids and we were not able to provide for them. We decided that our
children and I, first go to Sweden in 1987 and he would join us later in 1988. During
the time we were apart, he sent many letters and would get angry if my reply was
Q: What was the first act of aggression by your ex-husband?
It was in Iran, eleven days before our first child was born. My sister had visited
me and he became angry at her presence. He threw kabab skewers towards me. I still
have the scars on my legs. After that, whenever he became angry he slapped me, pulled
my hair and threatened me.
He always came back after each act of aggression and expressed regret. He used to
buy me gifts and beg me to forgive him. He said that he loved me more than anything
in his life. During the first year of my stay in Sweden, I wore the hijab. He had
instructed so and I followed out of fear. Of course, I also come from a religious
family and felt an obligation to wear Islamic dress.
When he came to Sweden, he modified his views a bit and allowed me to take off the
hijab. He used to tell me that I should appreciate him for freeing me. But if I wore
cream on my face or put on make up, he would always suspect that I am doing it for
another man. He was very very suspicious. He suspected every man. If men on the street
looked at me, he would immediately blame me for attracting their attention.
On the other hand, he would always buy gifts of cosmetics for me. He insisted, when
he was in a good mood, that I should look pretty. He would buy me expensive perfumes
and cosmetic goods such as lipstick, etc.
One time, I put on a perfume he had bought me as I was getting ready to leave the
house. He objected and said "Who are you going to meet? Who are you wearing
that perfume for? I bought it for you." Then he slapped me and threw away all
the expensive perfumes he himself had bought me.
Q: when did you decide to separate?
It was a very hard decision for me because divorce is a taboo in our society. Even
though I was beaten everyday, I feared for my children. I didn't have the wisdom
to understand that these violent scenes were the worse lessons I could give my kids.
In 1993, I decided to separate and get a divorce.
Obviously my ex-husband did not want to. He wasn't willing to loose his power and
patriarchal kingdom at home. We were in constant divorce negotiations from 1993 to
1997. He threatened to kill me or do something that no one would ever look at me
again. On June 1, 1997 I finally left the house and rented a small apartment nearby
Q: And then the tragic event...
On September 19, 1997, as I was approaching my apartment, I noticed a man holding
an object by my door. He asked me what time it is. I looked at my watch. It was 9:45
p.m. Before I finish saying the time, he threw liquid acid on my face. I felt every
piece of my face falling into my hands.
The Swedish Police arrested my ex-husband as the first suspect since he had a thick
file in the police department for domestic violence. But the police made a fatal
mistake of letting him go for lack of evidence. He was released while I was in coma
in the hospital. He flew back to Iran the day after the event. He went into hiding
in Qom and he is now in Karaj.
His arrest warrant is in effect by the International police (InterPol) and is effective
in 84 countries in the world. But since Iran does not respect any international criminal
extradition treaty, the Iranian officials have refused to give him to the international
Up to now, I have had around 55 surgeries on my face.
My case was reported by all European news agencies as an example of domestic violence.
I have lost my face and will probably never be the same. But I have not lost my will
to live and I am a stronger, wiser and better human being.
I have had a lot of time to reflect on my situation and the situation of other women
who are burned, mutilated and tortured by their husbands, fathers and brothers. Violence
against women does not have borders. It happens everywhere and in every socioeconomic
class. It will only end if women speak up. And I will not be silent. See photos