Women, Main Victims of Suicide in Iran

Farhang-e Tose'e, Monthly Magazine
Feb. 1998, Page 37-42
By: Somayeh Askari

Research on suicide in Iran points to a different sexual pattern than that which prevails in the world. Contrary to Western countries where single old men form the majority who commit suicide, in Iran the majority rests with young married women. Difference of gender, difference of geographical locations and lapse of time have influenced the method of suicide. At a time that the majority of men hang themselves, 83 percent of women who committed suicide in 1993 set themselves ablaze.


Although compared to Western industrialized countries the number of suicides in Iran is very low, during the last two decades suicide has been on the rise. For example from 1989 to 1993 the number of suicides in the country doubled whereas the population did not double. Only in Ilam Province the number of suicides in 3 years (from 1989 to 1991) has increased by 16 times.

The Iranian penal law prescribes no penalty for suicide, or collaboration in its commitment. Because the penalty against the person who has committed suicide will not serve as a preventive measure for the community and any legal measure against the family of the person who has taken his or her life inflicts much damage on the person's family or relatives.
One of the most heated and controversial topics about suicide is difference of patterns on the basis of gender which plays an important role in various countries.
Research on suicide in Iran has shown a different pattern against that which prevails in the world. Investigations conducted in Tehran from 1961 onward show that the number of females who committed suicide is in excess of men.
Between 60 to 80 percent of suicides in Turkemansahra, Ilam and Lorestan are related to young women whereas in Zanjan and Gilan male suicides are in excess of female suicides though the number of female suicide is on the increase.

The number of men who have lost their wives is three times that of married men; the number of men who have been separated from their wives are 5 time those that are married. In the United States and Norway an average increase of 1% in divorce led to 0.5% increase in the rate of suicide and in Denmark the rate of suicide due to divorce is above that of unemployment.
Research studies conducted in Iran show that the majority of suicides are committed in 15-24 year age group and with the increase of age the rate of suicide declines.

The number of suicides among married women is above that of single men and the number of single male suicides is more than single females. Therefore marriage serves a better protection for males against suicide than women. Meanwhile research has shown that children serve a far stronger protective shield for women against suicide than men. The majority of studies have revealed that family problems (such as addiction of the spouse, difference of age, lack of understanding with the spouse, polygamy, lack of interest in the family affairs), lack of love, premature marriage and excessive sensitivity on the taboo of divorce, are the most important reasons that lead to suicide particularly among women. Research on women who have taken their lives shows that they have suffered degradation in the family, male domination and arrogance, premature married age, clan arbitrary marriages, difference of age between the couple and lack of children.
Generally speaking, studies have revealed that religious belief and zeal has lessened the number of divorces. But research conducted in 1990 in Iran has shown that the number of suicides in those provinces which had more pious population (possessed more mosques, praying houses, etc...) was not lower than other provinces with less religious zeal.
Anyhow that which is obvious is the increased number of suicide among young married women in Iran whereas in Western countries the old unmarried men form the majority.
Now one must see why is it that the pattern of suicide among males and females and old and young differ in different communities.
Such an analysis needs broader research particularly about the gender patterns in Iran. Now let us cast a careful look at the condition of suicides in Iran with an eye to the suicides among women in recent years.


As a whole the majority of those who commit suicide in Iran are women. Meanwhile compared to population, Kohkiluyeh and Boyerahmad and Mazandaran provinces were foremost in suicide in 1993. Incentives for suicide differs in different regions in Iran. 67% of these who committed suicide in Lorestan were women and mostly illiterate and poor (the majority of them were from medium or low income classes). 15.2% of those who committed suicide and died were those who were drug addicts or their husbands and children were drug addicts, 13.9% were poor and 12% suffered from mental disorders and depression. Meanwhile 25% of those who did not die of suicide were poor and unemployed, 16.7% percent were undecided youth and 6.7% suffered from mental disease. In Ilam where 80% of suicides were committed by young women 18% of them committed suicide due to excessive depression, 14% due to calumny about family honor and 8% due to poverty.

In Gonbad, Turkemansahra and Gilan cases such as dispute between married couples, bigamy, frustration in education and physical and mental illnesses including addiction, alcoholism and poverty were the most important incentives for suicide.
The economic factor is a rising element particularly among women and from 1988 to 1991 suicide from poverty has nearly doubled in Gilan Province.
Also successful or unsuccessful suicide attempts among women in Lorestan was mostly among housewives who had no independent income.

A general review of the economic conditions in Iran for the year 1992 shows that only 27.1% of the employed population of the country were females and compared to Germany, Italy, Turkey, India and Indonesia and even underdeveloped countries, rate of female employment in Iran was very low. The most important reason for less employment of women from 1966 onward was the growth of juvenile population, employment of women in education, rising unemployment and stagnation of handicraft and agricultural activities (which was the most important factor) and economic shortcomings during the imposed war.
Except lack of jobs the most essential obstacle that prevents female employment is unfair treatment of women which is prescribed in the unwritten social customs and norms and lack of belief in female competence among policy-makers and executives.

Unemployment, illiteracy, immigration, unequal opportunity for the two sexes, the traditional male dominating codes in the community including crowded families, male domination and lesser respect for women and difference of age among the married couple and arbitrary clan intermarriage, has placed women in an unequal and unfair scale. This problem is not limited to illiterate or unemployed women. A review of employment of students has shown that the majority of female students are forced to remain in the house and watch the T.V. or listen to the radio whereas boy students have a chance to attend to various physical sports, and go to cinemas or parks. This is due to lack of physical recreational facilities for women.

Regarding the oldest method of suicides (in 1967) the most prevalent methods were hanging, shooting, stabbing or setting oneself on fire.
Of course the method of suicide differs according to geographical regions, social factors and gender. Research studies conducted for the years 1989 and 1990 show the different methods of suicides and the rank of provinces according to the number of suicides.
These studies have revealed that Kohkiluyeh and Boyerahmad province ranked first in suicide by setting oneself ablaze and Boushehr and Ilam were the second and third. In terms of using arms, Ilam was first, Kurdestan was second and West Azarbaijan was third compared to other provinces. The reason for such a high rate of suicide is the nomadic migratory nature of population in these provinces which are close to the western frontiers of the country and being near the war fronts the people had access to firearms.
Gender and geographic difference was also a prevailing factor. For example in Ilam Province the majority of women killed themselves by setting themselves on fire, hanging and using toxic pills and poisons whereas the men killed themselves by knife or by hanging. However these statistics change with the lapse of time but setting oneself afire among women has increased (it formed 83% of suicides in 1993).
Meanwhile in Gonbad region the majority of women used drugs to kill themselves.

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