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Surge In Women's Suicides Alarms Kazakh Province

(Illustration photo)
(Illustration photo)

An apparent surge in women's suicides in southern Kazakhstan has officials scrambling for clues as to why more women -- particularly younger ones -- are taking their own lives, sometimes in especially disturbing ways.

A case in point is Dilbar Turymbaeva, who owned and ran a stall at a vegetable market in the provincial capital of Shykment and died on August 9 of injuries suffered when she lit herself on fire.

The 45-year-old woman's motives for her self-immolation are still unclear, but local police have appeared to downplay suggestions that it might have been a public protest.

Senior police inspector Alma Sergazieva said authorities are looking at each case in an effort to discern a pattern in what could be a worrying trend.

"It's safe to say that stress, loneliness, economic and financial hardship, and unemployment have been among the main reasons behind the [recent] suicides," Sergazieva said.

But while Sergazieva speculated about the Turymbaeva case, she said police had no clear motive.

Such cases present a particularly thorny problem in autocratic Kazakhstan, where economic woes have mounted as exports to Russia and oil revenues have fallen but officials are historically reluctant to acknowledge social hardship or public dissent.

Police in the South Kazakhstan Region recorded 157 attempted suicides by women in the first half of this year, nearly one-third higher than the same period of last year, with the highest figure for women below the age of 30. Thirty-seven women died in those attempts.


Ninety-five of the 157 women who attempted suicide in South Kazakhstan were below the age of 30, and another 52 were 35-45 years old.

South Kazakhstan, a region of around 2.6 million people whose suicide statistics emerged days after Turymbaeva's death, has not been particularly hard-hit economically, according to official figures that show a jobless rate near the national average of 5.2 percent.

But it is among the more socially conservative parts of the country. Young women are less likely to receive higher education in colleges and universities, and are frequently married off soon after receiving a basic education. Bride kidnapping persists in parts of the region, effectively leaving women in forced marriages.

"I suffered a lot of abuse from my ex-husband," one woman who fled 17 years of marriage told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. She said she had been kidnapped by her future husband at the age of 17 and given birth to the first of their five children in her late teens. "I had many moments when I felt like I didn't want to live anymore."

The woman, from the village of Atakent, said she was one of many who missed out on a higher education and found themselves financially dependent on husbands they never even wanted.

Now 37, she works as a cook in a Shymkent café and relies on her parents to look after the youngest of her kids.

"[Many] women have resorted to suicide because of unstable marriages and unstable financial situations," said Bakhyt Dastankyzy, who provides counseling for women in South Kazakhstan, including some who have attempted suicide.

South Kazakhstan's department of employment and social programs has announced the allocation of more than $40 million this year to provide social assistance for some 57,000 impoverished residents.

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    Dilara Isa

    Dilara Isa is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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