KABUL – In a harrowing turn of events, an alarming number of Afghan women are resorting to taking their own lives out of sheer despair and hopelessness as the Taliban enforce restrictive measures on their freedoms to learn, work, and even move freely from their homes. A joint investigation conducted by Zan Times and The Fuller Project has brought this dire situation to light.
Historically, suicide rates have shown a stark gender disparity, with more men than women dying by suicide worldwide, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). Up until 2019, Afghanistan followed this trend, with higher suicide rates among men. However, the current investigation, which collected data from doctors at public hospitals and clinics across the country, reveals a disturbing shift. Contrary to the global norm, Afghan women now seem to be taking their lives at an alarming rate, showcasing the far-reaching impact of the Taliban’s stringent policies.
Startlingly, statistics obtained from nine out of the eleven Afghan provinces examined by Zan Times and The Fuller Project for the period up to August 2022 indicate that women outnumbered men in both suicide attempts and deaths by suicide. Although these figures are not exhaustive, as they only represent a portion of Afghanistan’s provinces, they do underscore a concerning trend. The year following the Taliban’s resurgence witnessed a tragic surge in female suicide rates, serving as a grim testament to the devastating consequences of the Taliban’s rule on the mental and emotional well-being of Afghan women.
Tragically, nine out of ten women in Afghanistan experience some form of domestic violence, according to the United Nations. The modest progress made in addressing this issue before the Taliban’s resurgence has now been wiped out, plunging Afghan women into an even more perilous reality.
The growing rate of female suicides in Afghanistan is a distressing testament to the immense toll that the Taliban’s draconian policies have taken on women’s lives. Beyond the loss of freedom, these policies have engendered a bleak environment of desperation and anguish, prompting an alarming number of women to choose death over a life devoid of agency and dignity. The international community and local actors must join forces to address this crisis urgently, advocating for women’s rights and mental health support in the face of adversity.
Alison Davidian, the representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, highlighted the psychological toll inflicted by the growing restrictions on Afghan women. She stated, “Afghanistan is in the midst of a mental health crisis precipitated by a women’s rights crisis.” The stark reality is that an increasing number of Afghan women are finding themselves cornered into believing that death is preferable to living in a reality where their agency and autonomy have been cruelly stripped away.
Various factors contribute to this tragic rise in female suicides. The loss of freedoms for women, compounded by forced marriages and domestic abuse, paints a bleak picture of their existence under the Taliban regime. Afghan activists, international aid agencies, and United Nations experts unanimously acknowledge that this high rate of female suicides is not just a reflection of lost liberties but also a testament to a growing sense of hopelessness.
A study published by Save the Children in August 2022 highlighted the gravity of the situation, revealing that 26 percent of girls displayed signs of depression compared to 16 percent of boys. While certain organizations continue to operate in Afghanistan, many have suspended their activities following the Taliban’s prohibition on women working for national and international NGOs. Consequently, a staggering 11.6 million women and girls are now deprived of essential aid. Services designed to support survivors of violence and prevent sexual exploitation have been forced to shut down, leaving vulnerable individuals even more unprotected.