Activists sound alarm over surge in suicides among Afghan women

Activists sound alarm over surge in suicides among Afghan women

Suicide cases remain vastly underreported and could be in hundreds every month, according to head of local NGO

By Rabia Ali

ISTANBUL (AA) – Last week, a teenage girl ended her life by hanging herself at her home in Afghanistan’s rugged central province of Bamyan.

Her family refrained from disclosing any details about her death, but a neighbor told local media she was particularly distressed about not being able to go to school, a result of the Taliban administration’s ban on education for women and girls.

A day later, in another part of Afghanistan, a 23-year-old woman shot herself with a rifle. According to local media reports, she took the step as an escape from an abusive household that she was confined to at all times.

Social media accounts of Afghan news outlets are teeming with more such reports of women dying by suicide, and activists say there has been a surge ever since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021.

With concrete figures hard to find, rights groups fear the issue and numbers are vastly underreported.

For instance, a report by local channel Tolo News said there were 250 suicide attempts in the country last year – 188 of them were women and 62 men.

Maryam Marof Arwin, who heads a local NGO called Afghanistan Women and Children Strengthen Welfare Organization, said they receive reports of at least nine to 11 suicides by women every month, many of them young girls.

However, the actual number could be in the hundreds, she told Anadolu.

“Most of the suicides are in places such as Takhar, Kunduz, Bamyan, Badghis, Faryab, Mazar-i-Sharif, and other rural areas,” said Arwin.

She cited two main factors for the underreporting of the issue: reluctance on the families’ part and pressure from the Taliban.

“The Taliban try to suppress reports of suicides. Most of the time they don’t allow the media to publish these reports,” she said.

“But we are seeing an increase in the number of suicides, and we are worried about the situation of women, especially girls.”

- ‘Gender apartheid’

The main reason for the spike in suicides among women is their deteriorating living standards in Afghanistan, according to activists.

They say depression is rampant, particularly due to the ban on education and employment, which is aggravating the already dire economic conditions of scores of families mired in poverty. Other factors include forced marriages, domestic violence, and the general lack of social life.

Last year, Fawzia Koofi, the former deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s Parliament, told the UN Human Rights Council that Afghan women were taking their lives out of desperation.

“Every day, there are at least one or two women who commit suicide for the lack of opportunity, for the mental health, for the pressure they receive,” she said.

“The fact that girls as young as nine years old are being sold, not only because of economic pressure, but because of the fact that there is no hope for them, for their family, it is not normal.”

More recently, a June report by UN-appointed rights experts warned of systematic “gender apartheid” and “gender persecution” in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

“Grave, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule, which also gives rise to concerns that they may be responsible for gender apartheid,” UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan Richard Bennett told the council in Geneva.

The interim Taliban administration, however, rejected the claims.

In a statement, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid accused the “United Nations and some Western institutions and governments” of spreading “propaganda that does not reflect reality.”

- Social media gives a voice

Along with other issues, activists and journalists in Afghanistan have turned to social media to report cases of suicides.

Zan TV, an outlet that was once run by women journalists, shares daily updates on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

In July, the organization reported at least seven cases of Afghan women dying by suicide.

Hamid Samar, the channel’s founder who left Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban returned to power, told Anadolu that they were sourcing their news from local contacts and staff on the ground.

He also cited the same reasons for the worsening situation, primarily unemployment, lack of education, domestic violence, forced marriages and poverty.

“Afghan women had great achievements in the last 20 years. Then suddenly everything came to a halt. Suddenly they were banned from everything,” he said.

Due to the curbs imposed by the Taliban, many women, including widows and those with no men in their families, have been left with no means to earn and survive, he added.

“These women were actually responsible for supporting their families. The Taliban took away their jobs and they are now jobless,” said Samar.

“They’re at home now and worrying about how they will feed their kids. How can they feed their families?”

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