Women Self-Immolation

A screenshot from Lynsey Addario's video

In yesterday’s New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Lynsey Addario published a moving piece on the plight of women in Afghanistan, especially in western province of Herat.  In recent years, the number of women self-immolation are growing rapidly in that part of the country.  Ms. Rubin wrote:

The hospital here is the only medical center in Afghanistan that specifically treats victims of burning, a common form of suicide in this region, partly because the tools to do it are so readily available. Through early October, 75 women arrived with burns — most self-inflicted, others only made to look that way. That is up nearly 30 percent from last year.

But the numbers say less than the stories of the patients.

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.”

There are two issues that Ms. Rubin does not raise. One, that self-immolation is sadly becoming so wide-spread that it is taking root in a folk-culture. I was in Herat this past summer, and I got the chance to interview a couple burned victims. The fact that they did not consider any other options– both in terms seeking help or of taking their lives in a less painful way– shows how self-immolation is taking its place in the public psyche as the only option available for these women. You might say: what are the options available for the? The fact that there really aren’t any options confirms self-immolation as the only option. If not countered through public-awareness campaigns, this will become a hauntingly dangerous issue.

Another issue that is at the heart of the problem, yet Ms. Rubin does not go in full detail to flesh out, is the economic side. One of the Doctors in Ms. Addario’s video repeatedly says that these issues stem from economic problems, but his language skills limits him to really explain this in detail. The sense that I got over the summer in Herat was that  the main economic issue is the large dowries. The value of these dowries are growing exponentially, putting the future groom under tremendous strain. The groom ends up spending years in Iran or Pakistan laboring to meet the dowry demands placed by his in-laws. By the time he marries his bride, he already has a deeply rooted grudge against her. On top of that, having paid so much money for her, he feels like he has bought her and he has the right to treat her in any way he wants.


About CostofWar

Like most Afghans, a natural-born expert on the devastation of war. This is just a canvass for my own reflections. View all posts by CostofWar

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