For some Afghan women, the only way out of lives of poverty and abuse is to set themselves on fire. This form of suicide is common partially because the tools are so readily available: even for the most impoverished of families, matches and cooking fluid are easy to access. In a medical center specifically designated for burn victims, about 75 women came in with mostly self-inflicted burns through early October, numbers up about 30 percent from last year.
The reasons for this particularly desperate and horrifying form of suicide are simple: women, as Alyssa Rubin points out in the NYT,
“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.”
Women who run away from home may be raped or put in jail; women and girls are still stoned to death. Other burn victims arrive with wounds that seem to be self-inflicted but were actually attempted homicides. Rubin writes,
“Doctors cited two recent cases where women were beaten by their husbands or in-laws, lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital to find themselves burned because they had been shoved in an oven or set on fire.”
Afghan women marry extremely young, and some girls are given as payment for debts. The tendency toward this brutal form of suicide or homicide clearly reflects a wider cultural norm of misogyny that needs to be addressed, or more women will suffer severe consequences. There isn’t a clear political solution, but the U.S. government should take a clearer stand in demanding rights for women.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.