A new poll from the Thomson Reuters Foundations ranks countries according to how dangerous they are to women. Of the top 5, most are unsurprising. Afghanistan, Congo, and Somalia are countries plagued by civil war, lawlessness, corruption, lack of services and more. They’re dangerous for everyone, so being dangerous for women is almost a corollary. Congo, in particular, will long be associated with its civil war and the use of rape as one of its weapons. In Afghanistan and Somalia, the lack of access to services due to war and more makes the prospect of giving birth extremely frightening.
The two other countries on the top 5 list, India and Pakistan, might come as somewhat more surprising. Places like Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia–where rights of women are severely limited by the government or quasi-governments set up by the Taliban–or Sudan, and other war-torn countries might have leapt to mind first, but there’s good reason for both India and Pakistan to be on the list. Or rather, there are only awful reasons for both. Female infanticide in India as well as trafficking of persons–many for sex and many not from India, brought it to the forefront. In Pakistan, honor killings, forced childhood marriage and other forms of violence against women put it near the top of the list.
TrustLaw, the legal news service of Thomson Reuters, polled 213 experts in women’s issues, asking them to rank countries based on health, services, threat of violence and more. They compiled the results to come up with the rankings.
Perhaps most notable element in the top 5 list is the lack of attention to sexual violence. Only Congo ranked highly on the list for sexual violence, as determined by the panel of experts, even though trafficking of persons is highly correlated with sexual violence. I’d be interested to see more on that front.
News about the poll was used to launch a special arm of the Foundation aimed specifically at examining legal issues pertaining to women. I’m always skeptical of such initiatives as the separation of “women’s” issues from everyone else’s issues often causes dissociation and legitimizes, in some sense, ignorance of the problem. If we declare that maternal health is a “women’s” issue, we allow ourselves to ignore the increase in intimate partner violence that often occurs during pregnancy, that poverty is correlated with lack of access to services, and that maternal mortality can overwhelm a family and the future prospects of surviving children. I hope that the concentration on legal rights of TrustLaw Women will avoid some of these pitfalls.