Afghanistan: Officials Observe Increase in Female Suicide in Herat Province

Officials in Herat report that the province, which has among the highest female suicide rate in Afghanistan, has experienced an increase in this rate over the past year.
 
The director of the regional hospital in Herat, Dr. Sayed Naim Alemi, recounts that the majority of cases involved women who have moved back to Afghanistan after fleeing to Iran. Mohammad Dawud Monir, an expert on social and legal issues in Herat, explains that “comparatively, they [Afghan women] had a better life there [in Iran]” and witnessed the rights granted to Iranian women. 
 
Monir believes that the life Afghan women experienced in Iran lies in contrast to the poverty and social conditions of Afghanistan, noting “[I]n Afghanistan, particularly around Herat, women are considered chattels to be sold” and girls are often forcibly married to older men for money.
 
The head of Neda-i Zan (Women’s Voice), Soraya Pakzad, believes the source of the high suicide rates among women in Herat may be attributable to the fact that incidents are more frequently reported by the media in Herat and are less easily hidden by the victims’ families. Research in Kandahar revealed that social structures caused cases to be left unreported, though suicide rates among women were high.
 
Pakzad further notes that Herat is a more open society than other provinces, leading many women to have an increased understanding of their rights. This knowledge, when paired with ineffective enforcement of the laws, especially those prohibiting violence against women, can lead some women to feel they have no way out but suicide. The suicides are usually carried out by self-immolation, but poisonings are becoming more common.
 
To combat the rise in suicides, Hamida Husseini, the director of Herat government directorate for women’s affairs’ cultural department, says the department will be implementing a program in which older women interview young mothers and girls about the problems they are facing. She hopes this will allow the department to better understand and support women in need. Her department further intends to advocate for the punishment of those committing violence against women, in addition to increasing public knowledge of the situation. Monir has also appealed to the Afghan government to coordinate with the international community to better address the challenges confronted by women in Afghanistan.