China Has Worlds Highest Female Suicide Rate


2003-09-17
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Overall suicide rate also well above global average

China has the highest rate of female suicide in the world, with most women who decide to end their own lives coming from less well-educated rural backgrounds, according to Chinese scholars and health officials.

"In China, women account for more than half of the people who commit suicide," Zhang Jie, assistant professor of sociology at New York State University in Buffalo, said in an interview. "The higher female than male suicide rate is unrivaled in the world. No other country has more women than men who kill themselves."

Zhang said that roughly twice as many men kill themselves as women in Southeast Asian countries, while the number of men taking their own lives in Western countries is around five times that of women.

According to China's Ministry of Health, at least 250,000 people commit suicide a year in China. That's a rate of around 20-30 per 10,000, compared with a worldwide average of 14.

A further 2 million attempt suicide, which has become the biggest cause of death for those between 15 and 35 years of age.

More than half of China's suicides are women, and the chief means they use to end their lives is the swallowing of pesticides. While some scholars point to a higher value given to males in tradition Confucian value systems, researchers on the ground blame a host of social, economic, and cultural factors.

"The social factor may be due to the status of women and the amount of space for development society provides them," Song Meiya, a senior editor on the China Women's News newspaper in Beijing told RFA. "Economically, rural women are still not quite independent and do not have too much economic power in hand."

But cultural attitudes were also to blame for desperation among China's rural women. "In a woman's lifetime, she does not have any family love from the day she is born," said Song, who has carried out in-depth journalistic research into the phenomenon.

Opportunities for personal development and education were also lacking, Song found. "Girls are not sent to school, either," she said. "My impression is that in rural areas, a woman's whole life only revolves around others as long as she lives. There is not a single day that she thinks about herself."

"This cultural element and these combined factors probably lead to the suicides among rural women and affect their views on whether their lives are precious or not," she added.

A recent article in the official People's Daily newspaper highlighted the problem. It quoted women's issues expert Lin Yalan as saying that even better-off urban Chinese women face greater pressures than men.

"Women have to face the same pressure in work as men as well as being expected to be good housewives at home," she told the paper. "Family violence also contributes to the cause. In addition, women have to face pressures from children. Once children encounter problems in study or in life, mothers can find it easy to feel guilty and blame themselves," the paper quoted Lin as saying.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide accounted for 85 percent of violent deaths in the Western Pacific region in 2000, far higher than the number of homicides. In Sri Lanka, where the suicide rate is the highest in the world, 55 out of every 10,000 people take their own lives.

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