Suicides by Afghan Women on a Daily Basis

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    Suicides by Afghan Women on a Daily Basis

    Troubling news of women committing suicide racked the Human Rights Council as it heard of the desperate situation of women in the strife-torn country.

    Afghanistan’s women are committing suicide at the rate of one or two daily, the UN’s Human Rights Council was informed on Friday.

    The situation for Afghan women is desperate, Fawzia Koofi, the former deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament told the council.

    “Every day, there is at least one or two women who commit suicide for the lack of opportunity for the mental health, the pressure they receive,” she told the council.

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    The discussion came up as the top UN rights forum agreed to Member States’ request for a rare Urgent Debate on the issue this Friday.

    Addressing the Council, Fawzia Koofi said that a lack of opportunity and ailing mental health, was taking a terrible toll on women in the country.

    “The fact that girls as young as nine years old are being sold, not only because of economic pressure, but because of the fact that there is no hope for them, for their family, it is not normal,” Koofi said, calling for action at an urgent debate at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

    “Let’s not think that the women of Afghanistan deserve this situation,” she concluded.

    Sharia law

    Hundreds of miles away from Geneva, where Fawzia Koofi was addressing the Human Rights Council, the Afghan Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was busy castigating the global community for interfering in the affairs of his country before an assembly of Islamic clerics and scholars – all men.

    Akhundzada is a former judge of the sharia court and is known for his orthodox, even radical, views on the participation of women in social, economic or even public life.

    He said that the world should stop telling the Taliban how to run the government and emphasised that sharia law is good and the only model for a successful Islamic state.

    He was addressing the clerics and scholars who have gathered in Kabul for a three-day men-only meeting.

    Promises broken

    Despite public assurances from the Taliban to respect women and girls’ rights, they are reinstituting step by step the discrimination against women and girls.

    Said Fawzia Koofi, a former member of the peace negotiation team with the Taliban said that the fundamentalists “obviously have not kept their promises of what they were telling us during the negotiations, in terms of their respect for Islamic rights for women”.

    Koofi added that “in fact, what they do is in contradiction to Islam. Our beautiful religion starts with reading. But today, Taliban under the name of the same religion, deprive 55 per cent of the society from going to school”.

    The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan are very unique and dire, she said, adding that

    She said: “[From] 28 per cent of the women who were in Parliament, representing the diversity and beauty of their country [it has come] to zero per cent participation. From 30 per cent or more of women in civil service of their country to zero per cent. From four million girl children in school, now to only 1.5 million.”

    Progressive exclusion

    Voicing concern for ordinary Afghans, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the massive unemployment of women, the restrictions placed on the way they dress, and their access on basic services.

    She said that women-owned and operated businesses have been shut down and 1.2 million girls no longer have access to secondary education, in line with a decision by the de facto authorities who took power in August 2021.

    “The de facto authorities I met with during my visit in March this year, said they would honour their human rights obligations as far as [being] in line with Sharia law.

    “Yet despite these assurances, we are witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression”.

    Bachelet encouraged the re-establishment of an independent mechanism to receive complaints from the public and protect victims of gender-based violence.

    “Beyond being right, it is also a matter of practical necessity”, said the High Commissioner. “Amid the economic crisis, women’s contribution to economic activity is indispensable, which itself requires access to education, and freedom of movement and from violence”.

    Afghan women becoming invisible

    Women made ‘invisible’

    Also speaking at the Human Rights Council, its Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, described a chilling attempt by the Taliban to make women “invisible, by excluding them almost entirely from society”.

    As an example of the de facto authorities’ intentions to impose “absolute gender discrimination”, the independent rights expert also noted that women are now represented by men at Kabul’s Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of religious scholars and elders.

    Such measures contravene Afghanistan’s obligations under numerous human rights treaties to which it is a State party, Bennett insisted before adding that the situation for women “massively diminish(ed) women’s lives, deliberately attack women and girls’ autonomy, freedom and dignity, and create a culture of impunity for domestic violence, child marriage and sale and trafficking of girls, to name but a few of the consequences”.

    Afghanistan’s response

    Nasir Andisha, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN in Geneva seemed to agree. “The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan demands nothing less than a robust monitoring mechanism to collect, consolidate, and analyse evidence of violations, to document and verify information, to identify those responsible to promote accountability and remedies for victims, and to make recommendations for effective prevention for future violations”.

    A draft resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is being negotiated at the Human Rights Council and will be considered on 7 July.

    But Nasir Andisha’s words do not reflect the thoughts of the government in Kabul because he does not represent the Taliban.

    Shooting the messenger

    In the meanwhile, as Koofi said, “We are fighting for the right to be visible and not to be erased from public life,” the Afghan Human Rights Foundation that describes itself as an independent, non- governmental, non-partisan and non- profit organisation working to promote human rights and democracy in the country has said that Fawzia Koofi does not represent Afghans.

    “She is not representing any of our Afghan sisters. She is from the family of drug lords & drug traffickers & made herself, her sister and brother millionaire. Her brother was caught with heroine but was released with her help. So please don’t portray this corrupt lady as hero,” the organisation said in a message on Twitter in the hours following Koofi’s address to the Human Rights Council.

    The organisation is based in Glasgo, Scotland, according to it twitter account.


    Image: UNICEF / Sayed Bidel – Girls at school in Herat, Afghanistan.

    Inset image: Oxfam

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