This act of desperation was not a unique incident. According to information gathered from public hospitals and mental health clinics in one third of Afghanistan’s provinces, there has been a concerning increase in the number of women who have committed suicides or attempted to do so since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.
Her hopes of one day becoming a physician were shattered when the Taliban placed a ban on education in their country. Then, her family arranged for her to be married off against her will to her cousin, who was an addict. Latifa felt as though her future had been taken away from her.
“I had two options: to marry an addict and live a life of misery or to take my own life,” the young woman, who was 18, said during a phone interview from her residence in the central region of the province of Ghor. “I chose to end my life.” “I went with the second option.”
According to medical professionals, the Taliban authorities have not publicized data on suicides and have prevented health workers in several regions from exchanging up-to-date statistics on the topic. To shed light on an immediate threat to the public’s health, health care professionals came to an agreement to discuss confidentially data spanning the period of time from August 2021 to August 2022. According to the available data, Afghanistan has likely become one of the very few countries in the world in which more women than men take their own lives.
The numbers are only a sample, but they do provide an overview of the vast demographic and geographic diversity of Afghanistan. They encompass provinces that are alternately dominated by all of Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups, provinces that range in terrain from the southern deserts to the northern mountains, and provinces that are largely rural as well as other areas around big towns.
Human rights advocates and officials from the United Nations have sounded the alarm about the dramatic rise in the number of women who seek to end their own life by taking their own lives. They have made a direct connection between it and the restrictions that the Taliban place on every area of women’s lives, ranging from a prohibition on education above the elementary level and a prohibition on the majority of job to a prohibition on entering parks, bathhouses, and other public spaces.
“Afghanistan is in the midst of a mental health crisis that was precipitated by a women’s rights crisis,” said Alison Davidian, the country representative for UN Women. “This crisis was precipitated by the fact that women’s rights were in crisis.” “We are living through a time in which an increasing number of women and girls believe that death would be preferable to living under the current conditions,” said one researcher.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), more men than women end their lives by taking their own lives around the world. In Afghanistan, up until 2019, which is the most recent year for which official statistics are available, a greater proportion of males than females committed suicide.
According to the data provided by healthcare professionals, just one of the eleven provinces that were studied had a higher proportion of males account for the bulk of suicide fatalities and attempts.
This was the province of Nimruz, which is known as the primary launching place for risky efforts to enter illegally into Iran. These attempts are typically carried out by men. Those who are unsuccessful in their attempts to cross the border may choose to end their own lives at that location.
Everywhere else, the majority of people who died by suicide or were treated after attempting to kill themselves were females or girls, with the youngest known victims being in their early teen years. More than three quarters of those who died by suicide were female, and the majority of those who survived were also female.
These gloomy statistics almost certainly understate the extent to which women are driven to desperation. In Afghanistan, suicide is a taboo subject that is frequently hidden from public view. Some women who try suicide will not be transported to the hospital for treatment, and some of those who are successful in ending their own lives may be buried without a record indicating that they committed suicide.
After spending several years in an abusive marriage, Roya*, age 31, was discovered dead in her home in the city of Herat in the month of May 2022. Mohammad, her younger brother, reported that his sister had frequently informed their parents about the violent behavior of her spouse, but that they pushed her not to leave him.
Mohammad explained, “Every time, my parents would try to convince her that keeping her family together was in everyone’s best interest.” “We learned very early one morning that Roya had committed suicide,” the statement read. We never imagined that it would ever come to this point.
According to Shaharzad Akbar, a former chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (an organization that was targeted by the Taliban insurgency and is now operating in exile), such concealment is frequent due to the social stigma associated with it.
“The rare instance when [relatives] willingly admit to suicide is when they don’t want any member of the family to be accused of murder,” said Akbar, who is now the executive director of Rawadari, a new Afghan human rights organization. Rawadari is a newly established organization in Afghanistan.