(RFE/RL ) Shabana had a bright future ahead of her. She was studying to become a doctor and preparing to get married.
But the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 turned her life upside down. The militant group’s ban on women attending university forced her to abandon her studies. Then her fiance, who is based abroad, broke off their engagement.
Shabana, who was in her 20s, last month committed suicide in her hometown of Charikar, the provincial capital of the northern province of Parwan.
She is among the growing number of women and girls who have taken their own lives in Afghanistan, one of the few countries in the world where experts estimate that more women are committing suicide than men.
The surge in the number of female suicides in the country has been linked by experts to the Taliban’s severe restrictions on women. The hard-line Islamist group has banned women from education and most forms of employment, effectively denied them any public role in society, and imposed strict limitations on their mobility and appearance.
Although there are no official figures, Afghan mental-health professionals and foreign organizations have noted a disturbing surge in female suicides in the past two years.
“Today, women and girls make up most of the patients suffering from mental conditions in Afghanistan,” said Mujeeb Khpalwak, a psychiatrist based in Kabul.
“If we look at the women who were previously working or studying, 90 percent suffer from mental health issues now,” Khpalwak added. “They face tremendous economic uncertainty after losing their work and are very anxious about their future.”
Many Afghan women say they have been turned into virtual prisoners in their homes since the Taliban takeover. The vast majority of women are unemployed. And most say they are gripped by hopelessness.
Violence against women, meanwhile, has increased under the Taliban. The militants have scrapped legal assistance programs and special courts that were designed to combat violence against women and girls.
Forced and early marriages of teenage girls have also spiked across Afghanistan, with parents marrying off their adolescent daughters to avoid forced marriages to Taliban fighters.
Maryam Saeedi, an Afghan women’s rights activist, says some women see suicide as the only way to escape their plight. “They commit suicide to end their problems, which is dangerous,” she told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.
Maryam, a resident of Kabul, says her 16-year-old sister has suffered from extreme depression since the Taliban banned girls above the sixth grade from going to school. “My sister’s mental health has suffered tremendously,” she told Radio Azadi. “It is tough for girls to cope after all their freedoms have been taken away.”
The Taliban has said that 360 people committed suicide in the country last year, without offering any details. Unofficial figures suggest that the number of female suicides has surged since 2021, when the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed.
The World Health Organization revealed in 2018 that around 2 million Afghans — out of a population of around 40 million — suffered from mental distress.
“These numbers are likely much higher today,” Action Against Hunger, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, said in a statement on September 5. It added that Afghanistan was grappling with an “unprecedented but unseen mental-health crisis.”
Khpalwak, the psychiatrist, says that the country lacks the resources to address what he called a mental-health epidemic.
“The number of mental-health patients is rapidly rising, but the treatment available to them is not enough,” he said. “Women psychiatrists cannot work because of the restrictions on their work. There is an urgent need to address the growing mental-health crisis.”
Faiza Ibrahimi of RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi contributed reporting to this story
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