India is the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour, according to a poll of global experts. Afghanistan and Syria ranked second and third in a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 548 experts on women’s issues, followed by Somalia and Saudi Arabia. The only western nation in the top 10 was the US, which ranked joint third when respondents were asked where women were most at risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex. The poll was a repeat of a survey in 2011, in which experts saw Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia as the most dangerous countries for women.
Experts said India moving to the top position showed not enough was being done to tackle the danger women faced, more than five years after the rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus made violence against women a national priority. “India has shown utter disregard and disrespect for women … rape, marital rapes, sexual assault and harassment, female infanticide has gone unabated,” said Manjunath Gangadhara, an official at the Karnataka state government. “The (world’s) fastest growing economy and leader in space and technology is shamed for violence committed against women.” Government data shows reported cases of crimes against women in India rose by 83% between 2007 and 2016 when there were four cases of rape reported every hour.
The survey asked respondents which five of the 193 UN member states they thought were most dangerous for women and which country was worst regarding health care, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. Respondents also ranked India the most dangerous country for women regarding human trafficking, including sex and domestic slavery, and for customary practices such as forced marriage, stoning and female infanticide.
India’s ministry of women and child development declined to comment. Afghanistan fared worst in four of the seven questions, with concerns over healthcare and conflict-related violence. The country’s public health minister, Ferozuddin Feroz, said the deteriorating security situation was making life difficult for women, with large parts of the country still in Taliban control after nearly 17 years of war. “Nowadays, suicide bombings and armed conflict are the third [highest] cause of deaths and disability in Afghanistan,” he said. “Instead of focusing on maternal health, on nutritional status, we spend it on trauma.”
The seven-year war drove Syria into third place in the survey, amid concerns over access to healthcare and both sexual and non-sexual violence. “There are so many dangers for girls and women,” said Maria Al Abdeh, executive director of Women Now For Development, which supports women’s centres in Syria. “There is sexual violence by government forces. Domestic violence and child marriage are increasing, and more women are dying in childbirth. The tragedy is nowhere near an end.”
Somalia, where more than two decades of war has fuelled a culture of violence and weakened institutions meant to uphold the law, was again named as one of the five most dangerous countries for women. Saudi Arabia ranked fifth, with analysts saying there had been some progress. But the recent arrests of female activists ahead of the lifting of the driving ban on women showed more needed to be done. “One of the worst laws that prevent women from having equal opportunities is guardianship – because every woman is subjected to a male guardian. She cannot get a passport, cannot travel, sometimes she cannot work,” said Ahlam Akram, founder of British Arabs Supporting Universal Women’s Rights. “We need to completely obliterate this system. I think change is coming, but it takes time.”
Experts said the surprise addition of the US in the top 10 came down to the#MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns against sexual harassment. “People want to think income means you’re protected from misogyny, and sadly that’s not the case,” said Cindy Southworth, of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Others in the top 10 were Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and Nigeria.
India, Libya and Myanmar were considered the world’s most dangerous nations for women, who were exploited by human traffickers in a global crime worth an estimated $150bn (£114bn) a year. “In many countries, the simple fact of being female creates a heightened risk of becoming a victim of slavery,” said Nick Grono, chief executive of the Freedom Fund. Respondents included aid professionals, academics, healthcare staff, non-government organisations, policy-makers and social commentators.
Credit: Belinda Goldsmith and Meka Beresford for Thomson Reuters Foundation, 28 June 2018.