An average of 10 women a month in Herat attempt
suicide by self-immolation

Self-immolation by women continues to be a problem in the Afghan province of Herat, with on average 10 women a month attempting suicide by setting themselves on fire. Not all of them succeed.

Laurence Lee, reporting from Afghanistan for Al Jazeera, travelled to Herat.

Fifteen-year-old Basira is in excruciating pain, with 55 per cent burns from her head to her waist. The doctors say they are doing what they can, but it is uncertain whether she will survive.

Her father said that she put petrol on the stove, thinking it was cooking oil, and that was how she became so badly injured. But in the hospital, it seems clear that the doctors do not believe her family's story.

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Hamayun Azizi, a doctor at Herat hospital, said: "Our nurse who undressed her said her clothes smelled of fumes, so we suspected that this case may well be suicide."

In the next room Masuma, another burns victim, is somewhere between life and death as well. She has 65 per cent burns.

Her family objected to her husband, but his family told her that she would lose her children if she divorced him, so she tried to take her own life.

"I was waiting for two hours before my husband's family took me to a clinic," she said.

"But they [at the clinic] told me they couldn't treat me there and I had to go to a hospital. During that time my body was melting."

Speaking out

Rights campaigners and aid workers have continually spoken out on the subject and in 2004 a delegation from Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, came to Herat to assess the problem.

In the suburbs they don't know the difference between their animals and their women

Many who attempt suicide by setting themselves on fire say they were abused and beaten by their husbands and were looking for a way out.

"In the suburbs they don't know the difference between their animals and their women," Suraya Daqeqi, a campaigner for women's rights, told Al Jazeera.

"They think women are just baby-producing machines - slaves to do their work."

But with suicide against the teachings of Islam, many of the men in Herat's mosques are unsympathetic to the women's plight.

"It's the women's fault. In Islam, God asks humans to be patient. You shouldn't lose your temper if you have problems," said Mullawi Khudadad Saleh, a regional religious leader.

Protest

The victim, if she survives, will have to deal not
just with the burns, but with a lifetime of pain

Afghanistan may be opening up, but society in Herat is not.

The Taliban don't have any hold in Herat, but conservative, austere traditions do and very often educated women are faced with a very basic lack of rights.

It may sound extraordinary but the way the protest against that plays out is through self-immolation.

If she survives her attempted self-immolation, a woman will have to deal not just with the burns, but with shame and a lifetime of pain and permanent physical reminders.

Meanwhile, a new hospital in Herat, built specifically for burns victims, is nearing completion.

Source: Al Jazeera