Why Are So Many Afghan Women Killing Themselves?

More bad news out of the Middle East: Fresh off Time magazine’s cover story on the state of Afghanistan (with accompanying extremely disturbing cover photo), a new report from Afghanistan’s Health Minister found that more than 23,000 women and girls attempted suicide there last year — a “several-fold” increase on previous years.

Around 48 percent of Aghanistan’s 23.6 million people are women — so that means around .2 percent of the country’s female population has attempted suicide. Compare that with the U.S. — where 2005 statistics found that 6,730 women committed suicide — or .004 percent — and you’ll see how shocking that really is. (Attempted suicide statistics are unavailable but most reports say there is one death for every 12 to 25 attempts.)

Why are so many Afghan women taking their own lives? Well, despite the fact that they no longer technically live under Taliban rule, things haven’t much changed for most women. Women are still the victims of forced marriage and domestic violence. They live in crushing poverty and with few rights.

Some depressing facts from UNIFEM:

  • Female literacy is around 15 percent.
  • 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan.
  • The average woman’s life expectancy in Afghanistan is only 44.

One of the cruelest statistics to come out of the new report: a heartbreaking 100 of these suicide attempts involved self-immolation — the act of setting fire to oneself. It’s a frighteningly painful way to die, and it gives some indication of how desperate these women are.

What can we do? Pay attention, and as filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, director of “Lifting the Veil” says, don’t forget. “I think people forget, and want to forget, what life is like for the ordinary Afghans, the ones they are actually fighting for.” [Salon]