This is the story of Rahima, a 26-year-old woman in the Chahar Su area of Herat City, who survived self-immolation at the age of eleven brought about because of a forced marriage.

Today she is satisfied with her new life and seems to be hopeful for a bright future.

Rahima married when she was too young to know the meaning of marriage or how to be a good wife. “It was a difficult time. I first saw my husband at the engagement ceremony,” she remembers. “He was older than my father, with a long white beard. I thought he was a friend of my grandfather.”

Her father had borrowed money from the man and he could not pay him back and the only way to repay the debt was to give his daughter to the man. Rahima’s new husband was 80. She burned herself to escape from the situation.

After being saved in the hospital, she was divorced from her husband. She remarried and now she has three young boys and one daughter.

Rahima said the Afghan Women’s Network helped her build a new life. She heard about the organization from another woman.

“The woman told me there is a network that supports women who have attempted self-immolation, but I did not believe it until I went and saw the reality,” said Rahima. “I was so disappointed when I saw healthy women with good skin, but after finding out more about burned women and speaking with them I learned many things.” She attended a literacy course for eight months. She learned to sew, and now she can work as a tailor to earn money.

Her face does not show grief or disappointment. She said the Afghan Women’s Network “rescued my life and gave me hope for future. Now I do not feel ashamed of myself.”

Hassina Nikzad, head of the Herat Afghan Women’s Network, said the organization offers food, clothing, and professional help to women after self-immolation. Forced marriage, illiteracy, poverty, and ignorance of women’s rights are the main factors in self-immolation of women, she said, adding that cases of self-immolation in the West Zone have dropped by 35 percent in the past year.

At the Herat Burn Hospital, Dr. Aqa Jalali said that currently six women are under treatment for self-immolation, but two women had died. He gets support from organizations such as the Women Affairs Center, Voice of Women, and the Afghan Women’s Network. They provide medicine, food, and other necessities.

Rahima’s new husband, Gole Ahmad, said he thanks Rahima for being a good wife. He said he and Rahima have a very good life. He and Rahima plan to let their children attend school and choose their own spouses. Rahima and Gole understand that self-immolation does not have to be the end of hope.

By Massoma

Photo of Rahima and her family by the author