Women in Mazar-e-Sharif have straddled the worlds between Western freedoms and conservative traditions for a decade. As the Taliban gains strength and the West pulls out, Afghanistan’s most liberal city is being plagued by a rash of suicides.
Fareba Gul decided to die in a burqa. She put on the traditional gown, which she usually didn’t wear, and drove to the Blue Mosque. There, at the holiest place in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, she swallowed malathion, an insecticide. She then ran over to the square, where hundreds of white doves were waiting to be fed by visitors. When she was surrounded by the birds, the cramps set in … //
… A Place of Despair:
The sisters’ suicide is particularly unsettling because the girls led privileged lives in this long-suffering country. They watched Bollywood films, had mobile phones and Internet access. Along with jeans and makeup, they wore headscarves but no burqas. They didn’t have to hide from the world.
And they lived in a city that does not force the well-off to barricade themselves behind concrete walls. A powerful governor controls life in this part of Afghanistan — so effectively, in fact, that residents hardly have to fear death from a bomb attack. Foreign aid workers are permitted to move around freely. Visitors barely see any weapons in the streets. Instead, they can watch women in the bazaars trying on shoes, their eyelids shaded with the traditional cosmetic kajal and their hair lightly covered by a headscarf.
Indeed, in theory, Mazar-e-Sharif is a place of hope. But at least in the regional hospital’s department of internal medicine, the city is a place of despair.
“Fridays are the worst,” says Dr. Khaled Basharmal as he takes out a notebook. “Eight attempted suicides on a single day.” He reads off the names of the most recent patients — Raihana, Roya, Shukuria, Terena, Rahima. There are also the names of two young men.
“It’s a disaster. Since late March, we’ve had more than 200 cases,” Basharmal says. The sisters, Fareba and Nabila Gul, were among his patients as well.
Basharmal is sweating underneath his white coat, and he is exhausted. It’s noon now, and he was forced to work another shift that lasted through the night.
No official statistics are kept, and no one can confirm his figures. Nevertheless, Afghanistan is believed to be one of the few countries in the world that has more women taking their lives than men. A recent study concluded that five out of every 100,000 women are committing suicide each year. But the real number is likely to be much higher, especially in rural areas far away from the big cities. More than 1.8 million women in Afghanistan, which has an estimated population of 31 million, are said to be suffering from depression.
A Cry for Help? … //
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