The Taliban’s suppression of women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan has led to more women taking their own lives than men.
According to a new investigation by the Afghan outlet Zan Times and the Fuller Project, in the year following the Taliban takeover in August 2021 the vast majority of suicides and attempted suicides in Afghanistan were by women and girls.
Alison Davidian, the Afghanistan representative for UN Women, said the country was “in the midst of a mental health crisis precipitated by a women’s rights crisis”.
“We are witnessing a moment where growing numbers of women and girls see death as preferable to living under the current circumstances, where they are stripped of the agency to live their own lives.”
Speaking with local health professionals, the Zan Times found women outnumbered men for both suicides and suicide attempts in nine of the 11 Afghan provinces where they obtained informal data.
Globally, men are twice as likely to die by suicide than women and in 2019 that trend was mirrored in Afghanistan. It now appears to have flipped.
Some of the key drivers of the increase in Afghan women taking their own lives include
- the high percentage of women who face domestic violence; and
- more girls being married underage as the Taliban allow fewer and fewer girls into education.
Earlier this month, it was reported Taliban officials were banning girls as young as 10 from attending school in classes in some provinces.
Even before the Taliban takeover, the UN reported nine in 10 women in Afghanistan were suffering from some form of domestic violence.
The ban on women working for national and international non-governmental organisations has also led to millions of women and girls no longer receiving vital aid, or support for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The caveat: this data, gathered by Zan Times and published in the Guardian, was only from a third of Afghanistan’s provinces and the Taliban has reportedly barred health professionals from publicly sharing suicide statistics. Social stigma also means suicides largely go unreported.
However, others have reported a similar trend. Last year Fawzia Koofi, former deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament, told the UN Human Rights Council that “every day there is at least one or two women who commit suicide”.
A report by the local Tolo News channel said there were 250 suicide attempts in the country in 2022 – 188 of them by women and 62 by men.
Maryam Marof Arwin, head of local NGO Afghanistan Women and Children Strengthen Welfare Organization, told the Turkish news wire Anadolu that she receives reports of at least nine to 11 suicides by women every month, many of them young girls, and that she believes the true number could be in the hundreds.
Professor Karima Bennoune, a former UN Special Rapporteur, told Tortoise that while “heartbreaking”, the increase in suicides among Afghan women was not surprising.
“Imagine losing your work, your education, your ability to move freely, your chance to participate in public, political, social or cultural life, your chance to be seen as a human being,” she said.
A June report by UN-appointed rights experts found that nowhere else in the world had seen such a “widespread, systematic and all-encompassing” attack on the rights of women and girls.
“The Taliban’s gender apartheid kills the hopes and dreams of Afghan women and girls. It systematically destroys women’s lives. An increase in suicides among women then is a horrible but predictable consequence,” Bennoune warns.
Photograph Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images