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July 12 2010

An Act of Desperation

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

IWF has written extensively about the difficulties still facing Afghan women. Unfortunately, their continued disenfranchisement has given rise to a new phenomenon sweeping Afghanistan: a spike in self-immolation among women.

From Time Magazine:

The Ministry of Women's Affairs has documented a total of 103 women who set themselves on fire between March 2009 and March 2010. No one knows what the real numbers are, given the difficulty of collecting data in the country. "More than 80% [who try to kill themselves in this way] cannot be saved," says Wazir, who runs the burn unit at Kabul's Istiqlal Hospital, one of only two such specialized wards in Afghanistan. …

In recent years, the dramatic suicide method employed by women in this war-torn country has drawn wide attention, amid speculation that the trend might be growing. Some, like Wazir, blame Iranian TV and cinema for romanticizing suicide by fire. (For example, in the 2002 movie Bemani, a girl uses self-immolation to escape a forced marriage.) He points out that many of his patients, including Fawzia, are refugees who have returned from Iran. Other observers argue that the practice has long existed as a method by which Afghan women try to escape their sorrows and that improved monitoring since the fall of the Taliban has only made it more prominent in public awareness. The Afghan government, however, says that in the past five years, the numbers have dropped.

Unfortunately, the bureaucracy ostensibly charged with aiding the nation’s women – the Ministry of Women’s Affairs – is still in its nascent stages and faces hurdles of its own. In the meantime, civil institutions struggle to stay afloat, while other societal elements actively work to repress women. Small wonder that widespread despondency among Afghan women leaves many feeling like they have no options except suicide.

Afghanistan deserves further attention from women’s rights activists – because as U.S. troops withdraw over the next several years, their plight is likely to worsen without pressure from the international community. Last week’s global condemnation of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s stoning sentence led to her sentence being suspended – which gives me hope that additional pressure applied towards other countries who systematically oppress women can be influenced as well.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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