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Afghanistan

Hopeless

In brief

Bettlerin in Kabul

Bettlerin in Kabul

Human rights activists report that women’s life in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and that things are now worse than immediately after the fall of the Taliban. Desperate to escape domestic violence, many women resort to suicide.

Human rights activists report that women’s life in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and that things are now worse than immediately after the fall of the Taliban. Desperate to escape domestic violence, many women resort to suicide.

Women in Afghanistan are still denied basic human rights, and live under atrocious conditions. “The number of suicide attempts by women in Afghanistan has increased sharply in recent years – especially among 15 to 19-year-olds,” says Nabila Wafeq, who works for the women’s rights organisation medica mondiale in the Hindu Kush. One way many women choose to escape violence and repression is through self-immolation. Confined to the home and with no chance to seek help, women tragically turn to petrol containers and matches – items found in every Afghan kitchen.

The number of cases of self-immolation has risen dramatically over the past four years. The local television station in Herat even ran a programme warning of the consequences. “Most don’t know what they are doing, and don’t understand the pain they will suffer if they survive,” says Kabul-based doctor Homeira Ameery.

Medica mondiale reckons that hundreds of women try to put an end to their suffering every year. Precise figures are not available. The families concerned generally keep quiet – for the sake of family honour. The suicide rate among Afghan men has also risen; but a study by the women’s rights organisation finds suicide to be a predominantly feminine phenomenon.

The reason for such acts of desperation stems from the sense of hopelessness felt by women, many of whom are sold by their own families to the highest bidder, and treated like servants by their parents-in-law. Girls younger than 14 are forced into marriages, which expose them to the tyranny of a despotic husband and his family. According to surveys conducted by medica mondiale, self-immolation is almost always committed to escape cruelty and violence. Husbands, on the other hand, find a different explanation; they speak of a wife’s inability to cope with housework and failure get on with parents-in-law. Police and courts downplay the issue.
Illiterate women – and more than 80 % of women in Afghanistan fall into that category – know little about their rights and have no chance to talk to anyone outside the family. Moreover, many women’s radius of action has been further confined by the growing lack of security. Fathers and husbands increasingly insist that women and girls should stay at home. “Women are much worse off today than they were after the Taliban were overthrown,” says Selmin Çalıskan of medica mondiale. “After the intense oppression of the Taliban, there was a wave of euphoria. Today, however, many women are losing hope because they see no progress.”

Those who survive suicide attempts are accused of bringing shame on the family. They are scorned by society. Husbands’ families often demand that dowries be re-paid. Husbands, however, are rarely called to account, says Kabul lawyer Massouda Navabi. Even if they are convicted, they often serve less than their full prison sentence as families buy their freedom after a few months. (cir)