KANDAHAR, 29 November (IRIN) - Some 100 women have attempted suicide by committing self-immolation or taking poison during the last eight months in the insurgency-hit southern province of Kandahar, an Afghan human rights watchdog said on Wednesday.
Womankind Worldwide says millions of Afghan women and girls continue to face systematic discrimination and violence in their households and communities. Guarantees given to Afghan women after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 have not translated into real change.
BBC NEWS, Oct. 31, 2006
"Our data show that at least 64 women have attempted suicide by setting fire to themselves and 36 others have resorted to taking poisons such as rat killers during the past eight months," Najeeba Hashimi, head of women's rights in the Kandahar office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said.
"The real figure could be much higher as many cases in remote districts go unreported," Hashimi added.
Life for women in southern Afghanistan - heartland of the Taliban who banned girls from schools and women from work during their five-year rule – remains largely unchanged despite progress elsewhere in the country. The current insurgency has made aid and development work in the region particularly difficult.
In September, Safia Hama Jan, head of women's affairs in Kandahar province, was assassinated by gunmen in the city.
One woman who attempted suicide in the most grisly way told IRIN what had driven her to take her own life.
"I did not know how to end the misery of torture and daily beatings I got from my cruel husband. So I poured petrol on myself and set myself ablaze," said 18-year-old Jamila, a survivor now receiving treatment for her horrific injuries in a hospital in the capital, Kabul.
With burn marks still clearly visible on her thin neck and face, Jamila said she had divorced the man after spending only four months with him and was now living with her father.
"I did not like him even at the beginning… but there was no solution because I was married by my father," Jamila said, while hiding her disfigured face behind what's left of her hands.
"Many of the men in power have the same attitude as the Taliban. Women have not been liberated. You want to know how women feel in this country? Look at the rate of suicide," she said.
Hospitals in Kabul have treated 36 cases of self-immolation this year compared to 18 cases in 2005, according to Medica Mondiale, a German-based NGO which supports traumatised women and girls in war and crisis zones.
Despite considerable progress following the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001 - with women's rights now protected under the new constitution - self-immolation, forced marriages and rape remain widespread in Afghanistan, AIHRC has said.
In 2005, AIHRC reported 101 cases of self-immolation throughout Afghanistan, but the commission claimed the number could be several times higher than reported. One of the most significant causes of the rise in female self-immolation in Afghanistan is forced marriages, with between 60 and 80 percent of marriages in the country being against the will of the woman or girl, AIHRC estimates.
Although the legal age for marriage is 18, around 57 percent of girls are married before 16, according to official statistics cited by the United Nations.
Besides forced marriages, a female illiteracy rate of over 80 percent and a weak justice system mean many women cannot find protection or feel that the law supports them, rights activists say.
Others link the position of women to a broader development agenda in Afghanistan. "Violence against women cannot be tackled effectively in our country unless poverty and illiteracy are addressed properly in our communities," Abdul Quader Noorzai, regional head of AIHRC in Kandahar, said.