Thursday, January 03, 2008

Women and suicide in Saudi Arabia (Arab News)

This item comes from the English-language Saudi newspaper Arab News:
In a recent study, a researcher from King Saud University tackled the often-unmentioned subject of suicide in Saudi Arabia. In her study, which concentrated on failed suicide attempts in 2006, the researcher found out that 96 percent of the cases involved women. She told Reuters that in the hospital where she works, they receive around 11 cases every month of women who have failed in their suicide attempts.

So far, we are talking about survivors, but if the figures are correct, then we must assume that there are as many, if not more, who actually manage to kill themselves. The report says that most of those cases are filed at hospitals as drug overdose.
Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that anything like 96% of all suicides in Saudi Arabia are committed by women. In every society, interpreting the relationship between the numbers of reported suicides and of actual suicides is always tricky, not least because the stigma attached to suicide often leads to suicides being disguised as deaths from other causes. I can well imagine that in a society like Saudi Arabia, where families would feel an especially strong desire to cover up suicides, suicides by males might be even more thoroughly suppressed than suicides by females.

Furthermore, as the author of the article points out, the study being cited focused on unsuccessful suicides, and it is at least hypothetically conceivable that Saudi men who set out to commit suicide are more likely to go all the way. That's just a matter of sociological speculation on my part, but whether it happens to be correct or not, the author's discussion of what these "failed suicide attempts" might mean strikes me as intelligent:
The report mentions that in most cases women who overdose on a drug to end their life do not go all the way. This means that their attempts are not wholehearted and the suicide attempt might be considered a desperate cry for help.

However, if we stop for a second here, we have to admit that if a woman resorts to such drastic action to get sympathy for her, then that means that there are bigger problems in our society that we should address head on.
That sounds right.
The researcher attributed the high suicide rate among women to social pressures. Within family circles, boys always get preferential treatment. What is more, there is very little or no communication between girls and their parents.

The report highlights many factors that can lead women to consider killing themselves, one of them being forced marriages. [....]

The report should lead to a frank discussion on many aspects of our society.
And that sounds right, too. Read the whole thing (below).

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Arab News
Thursday, December 27, 2007 (18 Dhul Hijjah 1428)
What Drives a Woman to Think of Suicide?
Abeer Mishkhas

In a recent study, a researcher from King Saud University tackled the often-unmentioned subject of suicide in Saudi Arabia. In her study, which concentrated on failed suicide attempts in 2006, the researcher found out that 96 percent of the cases involved women. She told Reuters that in the hospital where she works, they receive around 11 cases every month of women who have failed in their suicide attempts.

So far, we are talking about survivors, but if the figures are correct, then we must assume that there are as many, if not more, who actually manage to kill themselves. The report says that most of those cases are filed at hospitals as drug overdose.

The researcher attributed the high suicide rate among women to social pressures. Within family circles, boys always get preferential treatment. What is more, there is very little or no communication between girls and their parents.

The report highlights many factors that can lead women to consider killing themselves, one of them being forced marriages. This is not a problem among the rich where women usually have a say in the matter of who should be their husbands.

The report should lead to a frank discussion on many aspects of our society. In a religious society such as ours, suicide is ruled out completely. Still some of us think of it as a way out of their predicament. This is quite disturbing and unsettling. The report mentions that in most cases women who overdose on a drug to end their life do not go all the way. This means that their attempts are not wholehearted and the suicide attempt might be considered a desperate cry for help.

However, if we stop for a second here, we have to admit that if a woman resorts to such drastic action to get sympathy for her, then that means that there are bigger problems in our society that we should address head on.

If the report mentions forced marriages as a cause for some of the suicide cases, the story published in the Arab News about Fatima, the woman who was forcibly divorced from her husband, makes the point clearer. It was reported that Fatima told a friend that she was considering suicide as she “can’t take this anymore”.

For those who are unaware of the case, Fatima’s tragedy began with her half-brothers objecting to what they considered her husband’s low tribal background. They asked a local court to divorce the couple even though they had been happily married for over two years and had children.

The judge agreed. The couple fled and were later arrested in Jeddah where they were seeking help from officials. Fatima and her children spent some time in a women’s prison and when she refused to go back to her family, the state sent her to the women’s shelter.

This concerns a woman who bravely stood for her rights and refused to be intimidated, and yet all her efforts were disregarded as she was denied the right to a normal life with her husband. If she contemplates suicide, it means she has lost all hope. Should not that embarrass those who caused the divorce? The obvious answer is no, because in our society a woman can be sidelined, and her complaints are destined to fall on deaf ears. In this kind of environment, suicide can appear to some as a solution.

Disregarding a woman’s free will and her right to choose her life can simply lead her to desperation. The researcher told Reuters that many Saudi girls do not have channels of communication with their parents, and that they seldom find sympathy for their emotional and social distress. As a people we are used to hiding our emotions and keeping quiet about our problems. So lending an ear to a teenager and actually sympathizing with them does not seem to be part of our skills.

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