Is World Paying Attention To Rising Female Suicides In Afghanistan?

Doctors and human rights organisations have noticed a high rise in suicides among women since the Taliban came back to power.

Tanya Savkoor
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Since the Taliban imposed a ban on women's education and work, Afghanistan has been grappling with a healthcare crisis, especially owing to the shortage of female medics. However, this is not a new issue, as the nation has not seen a female health staff for decades, reflecting some of the worst women’s health indicators in the world, which has now been exacerbated by the bans. “Afghanistan has not produced a single female doctor for more than a year, and this is the worst thing that could happen to our health sector,” said a Kabul Medical University lecturer to Voice Of America (VOA)


Before the Taliban came back to power in 2021, Afghanistan had made some progress in reducing the mortality rate-- from 1,600 per 10,000 live births in 2002 to 620 in 2020. However, the nation's new directives are reversing the progress, especially making it worse for women.

Shortage Of Female Healthcare Staff

The Taliban have restricted women from pursuing secondary and higher education, including medical studies, which has exposed the gender-targetted retrograde control over the country's people. The UNICEF's spokesperson Kate Pond told VOA that there is a shortage of qualified health workers in Afghanistan in general, and women especially, which is resulting in people travelling long distances for health care services.

“As a result, more than one-third of the population lack access to health facilities,” she said. "If the ban on women’s education and work is not lifted, there will be no female doctor left in Afghanistan in the near future." Even before the Taliban came back to power, the nation grappled with a shortage of female medical staff, with some districts having no women workers at all.

Rising Mental Health Concerns

Doctors and human rights organisations have noticed a high rise in suicides among women since the Taliban came back to power. Although there is no reliable source that compiles data on rates of suicide, the UN said in July, "Reports of depression and suicide are widespread, especially among adolescent girls prevented from pursuing education.”


A doctor who wanted to remain anonymous (fearing punishment by the Taliban) told CNN about the rise in patients he has seen at his mental health clinic in Afghanistan's western Herat province. He said that he has seen a 40% to 50% rise in patients, especially women, since the Taliban’s takeover two years ago. Around 10% of those patients kill themselves, he said.

He added that since the education ban, the mental health of women and girls has severely deteriorated. He said he tries to comfort that saying that the ban will be lifted and until then they can work from home pursuing hobbies that help them find purpose. But he himself has lost hope, he said. 

"Last year, everyone had a hope that next year the schools will be open. The government promised that they would open the schools... But since this year the schools are not open, people lost their hopes. I feel like the number of suicides will increase," he told CNN, adding, "I don’t see any good future for anyone in this country."

The Taliban denied any claims of rising suicides despite reports from the UN. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a statement to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in January, "In the last 20 years, there were many cases of women committing suicide, but by the grace of Allah, we do not have such cases now."

Healthcare Has Turned Donor-Dependent

Afghanistan's healthcare system is in a fragile state since the Taliban seized all power in 2021. The country is fully dependent on foreign aid and donations to sustain the salary of staff and run healthcare centres and hospitals. However, this is now in an uncertain situation as foreign donors are imposing sanctions on the Taliban governance.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) paid supplemental salaries for more than 10,000 doctors, nurses and staff at 33 hospitals serving 26 million people across Afghanistan, according to a VOA report. The organisation also paid for the drugs and other medical supplies, as well as running costs of the hospitals, like electricity, ambulance services, lab tests and food for patients until the program ended in August.

Now, UNICEF has taken over the ICRC's undertaking, paying the salaries of more than 27,000 Afghan health workers, including 10,000 women. The salary payment program serves as a “lifeline in retaining the health workforce and preventing further brain drain” in Afghanistan, according to Kate Pond.

Despite funding from UNICEF and ICRC, Afghanistan's healthcare condition has revealed a pressing need for immediate donor assistance, as reported for at least 36 hospitals. The Taliban does not disclose the budget for healthcare and the allocation of funds within the healthcare sector. While donors have responded to the UN's calls for humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, only 40% of the required $412 million for critical health services in 2023 has been committed.

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