I came across a story in the New York Times two weekends ago about a growing group of women in Herat, Afghanistan, a mid-sized province in the northwest region of the country. In a an increasingly common custom, the women of Herat are attempting to commit suicide by self-immolation. Setting fire to their own bodies, these women subject themselves to unfathomable, indescribable pain to escape the depravity and degradation that afflicts so many Afghan women.
With the fall of the Taliban’s dictatorial, theocratic and sexist rule over Afghanistan in late 2001, the outlook for the country’s women seemed promising. With the repeal of many of the Taliban’s most draconian fiats, women returned to work in large numbers, and an intrepid few started walking outside without a male escort or clad in the burqa, as mandated by sharia law. In 2004, female citizens were written into the country’s new constitution, securing an equal rights clause that ostensibly demonstrated President Hamid Karzai’s commitment to a post-misogynistic society. Sadly, all the promise and auspices of the new Afghan society have been for naught — the plight of the women in Afghanistan, and especially Herat, is still dire, and getting worse.
This year alone, over 75 women have checked into hospital in Herat with severe burns — the overwhelming majority of which were self-inflicted. Fire is prevalent as a method of suicide due to the ubiquity of the materials. Even the most impoverished of Afghan women are relegated to a life slaving over a hot stove in a kitchen and have access to a match and flame. Those who survive often cite domestic abuse as the primary motivating factor of their attempted suicide. Forced into arranged marriages at prepubescent ages, women in Afghanistan are often beaten by their husbands for sport.
Afghanistan’s 15 million women are afforded no social mobility, no choice about how they wish to shape their lives, and often, no escape from the squalor in which they are forced to reside. An overwhelming number of women in the country live their lives completely at the behest of their husbands — husbands who forsake their spouses, mercilessly abuse them, and subject their ostensible life partners to bleak servitude.
This Thanksgiving, when you’re sitting around the table with friends and family, take a minute to think about those in the world who would covet your spot at that table. Think about the women in Herat, Afghanistan, so stricken that hundreds choose to and horrifyingly end their lives, to escape from beatings, lashings and worse. And though it may seem a cliché, give a thought to the less fortunate worldwide.
Think about the 22,000 children in the world that die each day in poverty. Think about the 40 million people battling HIV/AIDS, or the millions killed by the easily-preventable malaria. Think about the 2.6 billion people lacking access to clean and safe water, or the 1.8 million children that die every year from water-related illnesses. And remember the many who have far less to be thankful for here in the United States — the 35.9 million that live below the poverty line, the 40 million on food stamps, and the millions of Americans still desperately searching for employment.
We should take this break to live up to the meaning of this holiday, and the ideals of our University. This Thanksgiving, think about all that you have to be thankful for, but more importantly, think about those who remain in desperate need. Then, after the turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are gone and before returning to the bustle of Yale, think of how we can give back to a world that has given us so much.
Joel Sircus is a freshman in Trumbull College.