Female Suicides in Afghanistan

The Most Extreme Form of Protest

Hundreds of women commit suicide in Afghanistan every year. Many of them take their own lives to escape unbearable domestic conditions that have remained virtually unchanged since the end of the Taliban regime. Majed Malek reports

Despite the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, doctors in Kabul and Jalalabad report that the number of suicides has even risen over the past few years.

While this is partly due to an influx of two million returning refugees, it also reflects an increased awareness of the living conditions of women and the fact that suicides are now only beginning to be officially recognized.

Forced marriages as the main factor

"Women commit suicide because they are married off as young girls, forced to marry, and subject to a life of abject poverty and illiteracy," says Judge Rauf Ramaki in the western Afghan city of Herat.

Catastrophic domestic conditions, primarily in rural areas, are responsible for the high suicide rate among women. Forced marriages are still very common.

Women are often traded among families or given away as compensation for a crime. Young women are married to men who are three times their age.

Their in-laws often see them as little more than an extra pair of hands to be put to work. Many of them are beaten or subjected to other forms of physical and psychological abuse.

No betterment for women in rural areas

While well-educated women in the cities who were banned from working under the Taliban have benefited from the fall of the fundamentalist regime, the situation of women in rural areas remains the same.

Human rights organizations say that women in the Pashtun areas live under particularly adverse conditions.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission estimates that every year hundreds of women attempt to take their lives or succeed in committing suicide as a means of escaping a life of domestic oppression.

Since women often have access to liquid fuel or other combustibles because of their work in the kitchen, many of them burn themselves to death. Others overdose on pills, cut their wrists, or hang themselves.

The families do their best to cover up suicides or pass them off as accidents. This makes it virtually impossible to estimate the actual number of suicides.

Suicide as a means of expressing abhorrence

Maria Bashir, a public prosecutor and women's rights activist in Herat, thinks that suicide is usually committed by women and girls who know their rights and take their lives out of protest over the oppression that they suffer at the hands of their husbands and brothers.

She says this is a way of expressing their abhorrence for the widespread use of force and discrimination in male-dominated Afghan society.

The public prosecutor and women's rights activist from Herat condemns the Afghan government for doing far too little to protect the rights of women.

She says there have been many cases where fathers or other legal guardians have married off girls between the ages of 9 and 12.

Judge Rauf Ramaki in Herat also sees the women's actions as a form of protest:

"Since these women are more aware of their rights, they rebel against their husbands and brothers, who in turn put them under even more pressure. This often leads to suicide attempts."

Majed Malek

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005

Translation from German: Paul Cohen

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