Afghan Women Set Themselves On Fire To Escape Abusive Marriages

An article from Time poignantly describes the conditions inside the women’s ward of the Istiqlal Hospital burn unit in Kabul, where young women who have attempted to commit suicide by self-immolation lie unconscious or in serious pain.  According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 103 women who set themselves on fire between March 2009 and March 2010, although these numbers are far from sure, given the difficulty of collecting this kind of data and the fact that many of the women who kill themselves in this manner never make it to the hospital.  Almost none of the women survive their suicide attempts.

These women are struggling to escape the desperate realities of life for women in Afghanistan, where domestic violence is common and women are taught to blame themselves for the abuse that they suffer at their husbands’ hands.  “Afghan society puts the blame on the woman — that she is not a good woman,” explained Selay Ghaffar, director of the Kabul-based NGO Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, “that she is suffering at home because she is not behaving like a good mother or a good wife. And that’s why the husband has the right to beat her.”

The legal structure in Afghanistan is still highly patriarchal, another reason that women feel that they must escape abusive relationships through suicide; turning to relatives, clergy, or tribal elders rarely results in a decision that punishes an abuser.  Arranged marriages are still “like a form of sale,” according to Sayeda Mojgan Mostafezi, Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, where women are traded to strengthen bonds between families or settle disputes.  There are no government-run safe houses for women who are victims of domestic violence, and women have very little awareness that there are escape methods other than suicide.  Self-immolation is, for them, the only way out.

It’s of course difficult to know how to solve a problem like this, and Ghaffar is right when she notes that women don’t just need laws to protect them (although stronger – or any – laws against domestic violence are certainly needed), but a sense that they have allies and access to counseling, safe houses, and divorce.  And although women’s position in Afghan society has certainly improved since the fall of the Taliban, the impact of more women in the government has yet to turn into a tangible sense of empowerment for most Afghan women, as these tragic cases show.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Sally M.
Sally M7 years ago

Here is an org. worthy of your support...

A great organization that has been fighting for Afghan women for years!

"RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977. "
Read the story of Meena, what a brave woman, who sadly was killed, but she is the founder of RAWA . They are non-violent and are doing so much with so little.....their focus is on education. The women in Afghanistan are mostly illiterate and do not know how to even begin to get protection.....if you can't read, you will not know what rights you have, where to go, how to contact someone... there are people out there to help, but how can one lone woman start this journey? Who can she trust? RAWA does so much and is very worthy of your support, please read their story and their web-page, it will change your life.

Christine W.
Past Member 7 years ago

Sign a petition to help end the male dominated lives of these women that have absolutely no rights. Try also to view The Canvas Prison. pps

Marianne Good
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Michele C.
Michele C7 years ago

It is horrible that these women have no way to escape the abuse they are enduring. Yet in the U.S. women have a multitude of ways to escape an abusive marriage, however some choose not to. That I fail to understand.

June Bullied
june bullied7 years ago

what is it with the middle east? all these barbaric laws against women. in this male-dominated society, do men ever do anything wrong? not likely. why do they think they are god's gift to the world? who put such nonsense in their heads? they're nothing but abusive lowlife scum. if karma is ever needed, it is here and now. get with the program cretins, get out of the dark ages, human/animal abuse will not be tolerated. god will punish those who are guilty of abusing. may all you male cretins rot in hell here on earth and thereafter! god have mercy on all the women and animals in these god forsaken countries.

Helen Le
Helen Le7 years ago

Oh my gosh, no one should ever have to do such self harm to escape from domestic abuse. This is absolutely heart breaking :(

Please help out these women and sign this petition, we all need to live in a world without domestic violence and a world where everyone has human rights!

Marianna B M.

shame on you afghan men

Emilia M.
Emilia M7 years ago

we women here in the U.S. take a lot of things for granted. we have access to go to school, receive financial aid, and go to shelters if we're being abused by our partners or relatives but these women who live on the other side of the planet have NO ACCESS whatsoever. they are living in hell everyday and every night. it's so sad that their only way out is by committing suicide. i hope in the future there will be change in the Middle East someday.

Sara N.
Sara N7 years ago

i think it's incredible that society has caused women to accept that death is better than being a terrible wife/mother. it is awful that society would ever support the abuse of a woman.

Sharon Paige
Sharon P7 years ago

May The Great Spirit Bless Them