Some Afghan women say death by fire is their only choice

Here is a sad but hopeful story about the suffering of Afghan women under the rule of the Taliban. It was originally posted by at this link: It is amazing to me the politically correct "cover up" that is taking place in our country aimed to shelter people from the logical conclusions of Islamic culture. Where is the feminist outcry for Islamic women? There is a marked hypocrisy that political correctness cannot escape. Exploiting, misrepresenting, and maligning Christianity is "free game" in our media and pop culture. At times the whole thing has a very anti-Al Jazeera feel to it.

by James PalmerReligion News Service

HERAT, Afghanistan -- Simagol Yousefi was only 20 when her husband, Abdul, traveled to Iran to find work, leaving her and their two young sons in the care of her in-laws.
Yousefi said it soon became clear she and her children were not welcome by Abdul's parents or his five siblings.

"They beat my children and they beat me," Yousefi said in an interview. "My father-in-law threatened to throw me out of the house. I would have been homeless begging on the street."
Feeling helpless with no one or nowhere to turn, Yousefi doused her body with kerosene and lit a match. Her clothes ignited in a wave of flames that tore into her flesh.

"This was a plan of foolishness," Yousefi said of the incident three years ago. "But at the time, I didn't know what else to do."

Seven years after the Taliban's repressive rule ended, women who once were denied the opportunity to pursue jobs and education are still struggling to gain a foothold in this patriarchal culture.

One result has been an ongoing and increasing self-immolation crisis. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has documented hundreds of cases of women lighting themselves on fire since 2006. Most are poor, illiterate and living in abusive households, and believe they have few alternatives but to endure their hardships. In Herat alone, the government-run hospital registered 65 self-immolation cases in the first nine months of 2008.

"The family and village elders dominate life here," said Sima Shir Mohammadi, who heads the ministry of women's rights branch office in Herat. "Women have little influence in matters of their own lives."

Mohammadi attributes the rising trend in part to security, which she says has declined significantly this past year, and the difficulty of reaching women who need help.
"In order to eliminate, or at least reduce this problem, we have to make women aware of their rights," said Naeema Nikzad, a doctor who counsels self-burn victims in Herat for the German aid group Medica Mondiale. "They must understand they have other options and don't have to light themselves on fire."

Jamal Afshar, 30, a physician at the hospital who treats burn victims, said 90 percent of the women die from their wounds because "in most cases they've suffered burns over 70 percent of their bodies."

The survivors typically receive somewhere between 20 days and two months of treatment at the hospital. But their psychological scars can run as deep and be as damaging as physical wounds.

"They often believe they've committed a terrible act, so they'll deny it was intentional and say it was an accident," said Nikzad, the doctor who counsels self-burn victims in Herat.
For many, self-immolation is a final and despondent plea for compassion.

"Most victims don't want to kill themselves," Nikzad said. "The first question they usually ask me is, `Will I survive?"'

Ultimately, Nikzad said, the women "want to bring their problems to the attention of their families as if to say, `Look at me, I am human and I exist."'

Yousefi confirmed this view, but said her efforts to illicit empathy from her in-laws failed. "The situation," she said, "is still the same."

For others, like Robaba Rezaie, 32, self-immolation is a genuine attempt to end what is often viewed as a miserable life without hope. Facing a long winter with an unemployed husband and no money to support her five children, Rezaie ignited a natural gas canister in her kitchen last December.

"I wanted to die rather than watch my children freeze and starve to death," said Rezaie, who suffered burns over 30 percent of her body.

To help women return to their homes and society, the Association of Cooperation of Afghanistan, a Spanish aid organization, started a program in 2006 that offers instruction in reading and writing. Sewing classes are also available to help give the women a skill to earn money.
On a recent morning on the second floor of the women's affairs office in Herat, a dozen self-immolation victims were sitting around a long table, working on their sewing skills under Rezaie's direction.

Razin Ahmadi, 20, survived her burns three years ago and was illiterate before she started classes. She is now thriving in her new pursuits.
"I enjoy learning during the classes but I also hope to help support my family with tailoring one day," Ahmadi said.

The group also gives the women a chance to escape the confines of their homes and support one another.

"We always talk about how we regret burning ourselves, but now we have to continue our lives," Ahmadi said.

The women often bring their daughters and young relatives with them to the sewing classes -- not just to practice the craft but to hear about the hard-learned lessons of self-immolation.
"We tell the younger girls that burning yourself is not an answer to your troubles," Rezaie said.


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