Seven years ago a Thomson Reuters Foundation experts’ survey found the five most dangerous countries for women were Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia. This year we set out to see if the situation had changed.
We wanted to find out whether more was being done to address the overall risks faced by women, and specifically regarding healthcare, access to economic resources, customary practices, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. We expanded our poll to the 10 most dangerous countries with some surprising results.
World leaders vowed three years ago to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls by 2030, allowing them to live freely and safely to participate equally in political, economic and public life. But despite this pledge it is estimated that one in three women globally experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime.
Child marriage is still rife, with almost 750 million women and girls married before their 18th birthday, resulting in teen pregnancies that can put their health at risk and limiting schooling and opportunities. Here are the results of the survey, listing the top 10 most dangerous countries for women. Number 10 may surprise you.
India was named as the most dangerous country for women after coming fourth in the same survey seven years ago. The world’s second most populous nation, with 1.3 billion people, ranked as the most dangerous on three of the topic questions – the risk of sexual violence and harassment against women, the danger women face from cultural, tribal and traditional practices, and the country where women are most in danger of human trafficking including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude.
Violence against women in India has caused national and international outrage and protests since the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a student on a bus in New Delhi. As India’s rape epidemic gets worse by the year, critics have pointed fingers at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for not doing enough to protect women.
Afghanistan was ranked as the second most dangerous country for women after topping the poll in 2011. Nearly 17 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, many women still face dire situations daily despite Western donors pumping billions of dollars into the country. Afghanistan ranked as the most dangerous country for women on three of the topic questions – the most dangerous in terms of non-sexual violence such as conflict-related violence and domestic abuse, the worst access to healthcare, and a lack of access to economic resources and discrimination over jobs and land.
Afghanistan was listed as 171 out of 188 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2015 global Gender Inequality Index. The United Nations has accused the Afghan state of allowing widespread gender brutality to go unpunished by failing to prosecute criminal violence against women who are often confined to the home and seen as subordinate to men.
Syria was named as the third most dangerous country for women after seven years of civil war which has decimated services across the country and killed about 510,000 people. Some 5.5 million Syrians are living as refugees in nearby countries and another 6.1 million of the 18 million population are still in Syria but forced to flee their homes.
Respondents ranked Syria as the second most dangerous country for women in terms of access to healthcare and regards non-sexual violence which includes conflict-related violence as well as domestic abuse. Syria was a joint third with the United States with regards to the risks women faced of sexual violence and harassment and named seventh worst for lack of access to economic resources.
Somalia was ranked as the fourth most dangerous country for women after coming fifth in the 2011 poll. The impoverished country located in the Horn of Africa has been mired in conflict since 1991 with the government struggling to assert control over poor, rural areas under the Islamist militant group al Shabaab. The United Nations has estimated about 6.2 million people in Somalia – half the population – need emergency aid, such as food, water and shelter, due to the conflict and unprecedented drought.
The poll ranked Somalia as the third most dangerous country for women in terms of access to healthcare and for putting them at risk of harmful cultural and traditional practices. Somali was named as fifth worst country in terms of women having access to economic resources, tied ninth when it came to non-sexual violence such as conflict-related violence, and tied 10th on sexual violence.
5. Saudi Arabia
The conservative kingdom was named the second worst country in terms of economic access and discrimination which includes job discrimination, discriminatory property rights, and an inability to make a livelihood. It came fifth in terms of the risks women face from cultural, religious and traditional practices, and seventh regarding non-sexual violence including domestic abuse.
Saudi Arabia has made headlines in recent years for moves to boost female participation in the workforce from the current 19 percent and for lifting a decades-long ban on women driving. But customary gender segregation in most workplaces still limits the way in which women can be employed and a guardianship law by which women need permission from a male relative to travel abroad, marry and other activities remains in place. Saudi Arabia has come under international fire in recent months for the arrest and jailing of some women’s rights activists.
Pakistan was named as the fourth worst nation when it came to economic resources and discrimination in the workplace and regarding land, and also regarding the risks women faced from cultural, religious and traditional practice including so-called “honour” killings. Pakistan ranked fifth when it came to non-sexual violence including domestic abuse, and joint seventh regarding sexual violence and harassment.
World Bank data shows almost one in three married Pakistani women report facing physical violence from their husbands although informal estimates are much higher. Rights groups say hundreds of women and girls are killed in Pakistan each year by family members angered at perceived damage to their “honor”, which may involve eloping, fraternizing with men or any infringement of conservative values regarding women.
7. Democratic Republic of Congo
The United Nations has warned that millions of people face hellish living conditions in DRC after years of factional bloodshed and lawlessness. About 4.3 million people have been displaced amid endemic violence, including machete attacks and gang rape, with NGOs saying this year that women and children were being exposed to the “worst sexual abuse ever”.
The vast Central African country ranked as the second most dangerous country for women as regards sexual violence. It ranked between seventh and ninth in four other questions including non-sexual violence, access to healthcare, economic resources and cultural and traditional threats.
Yemen ranked poorly on access to healthcare, economic resources, the risk of cultural and traditional practices and non-sexual violence.
Saudi Arabia and regional arch-foe Iran are locked in a three-year-old proxy war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced three million and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of starvation. Yemen is still reeling from the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis where 22 million people needed vital assistance.
Nigeria was ranked as the ninth most dangerous country for women with human rights groups accusing the country’s military of torture, rape and killing civilians during its nine-year fight against Islamist insurgency Boko Haram. The conflict has killed more than 30,000 people and spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Africa’s most populous country was named as the sixth worst nation regards the risks women face from cultural and traditional practices and tied 10th when respondents were asked about the risks of sexual violence. But Nigeria was named as the fourth most dangerous country along with Russia when it came to human trafficking. Studies have shown that tens of thousands of Nigerian women have been trafficking into Europe for sexual exploitation.
The United States ranked as the 10th most dangerous country for women, the only Western nation to appear in the top 10. The United States shot up in the rankings after tying joint third with Syria when respondents were asked which was the most dangerous country for women in terms of sexual violence including rape, sexual harassment, coercion into sex and the lack of access to justice in rape cases. It was ranked sixth for non-sexual violence.
The survey was taken after the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment went viral in October last year as Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 70 women, some dating back decades. Hundreds of women have since publicly accused powerful men in business, government and entertainment of sexual misconduct and thousands have joined the #MeToo social media movement to share stories of sexual harassment or abuse.