A recent survey by Thomson Reuters has highlighted all too clearly the ongoing plight faced by millions of women across the globe.
Naming Afghanistan as the most dangerous country in the world for a woman to be born, the poll was put together by 213 gender experts from five continents. It illustrated how poverty, rape, infanticide and limited ante-natal care are all alarmingly prevalent problems that still plague the daily lives of women. Afghan women still have a one in 11 chance of dying in childbirth, according to UNICEF figures.
Antonella Notari, head of Women Change Makers, a group that supports women social entrepreneurs around the world, attributed their terrible record particularly to the “ongoing conflict, NATO airstrikes and cultural practices combined, which make Afghanistan a very dangerous place for women.”
Women seeking to “challenge ingrained gender stereotypes of what’s acceptable for women to do or not, such as working as policewomen or news broadcasters, are often intimidated or killed.”
Yet Afghanistan is far from alone in its abysmal treatment of women. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a country still reeling from a humanitarian disaster that has killed an estimated 5.4 million people, followed closely behind, due to the high levels of systematic rape inflicted upon women. More than 400,000 women are estimated to be raped each year, earning Congo the haunting title of ‘rape capital of the world’ by the United Nations.
However, it is the placement of India as forth in the poll that has sparked the most interesting debate. It is the world’s largest democracy and a country that boasts numerous female political leaders. Indira Ghandi is often seen to be one of the most powerful forces in the country’s political history, and Sonia Ghandi is now the Congress party leader. Indeed, the Indian President, Speaker of the House and Leader of the Opposition are all women.
“The most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant.”
Somali Women’s Officer
Nonetheless, India has the highest rate of female trafficking in the world, with 100 million women estimated to be involved in trafficking in 2009. There are also an estimated 3 million prostitutes, of which 40 per cent are children.
Yet, as Cristi Hegranes, founder of the Global Press institute says, the corruption rife throughout government makes it an issue almost impossible to tackle: “The practice [of trafficking] is common but lucrative so it goes untouched by government and police.”
Infanticide is also troublingly prevalent, with up to 50 million girls thought to have been victims over the past century. In a country often perceived to be far more progressive than its other Asian counterparts, this poll will hopefully serve as a harsh wake-up call to the enormous divide that exists within the country.
Young girls of ages six and above are still forced into marriages with considerably older men, and then cast out from their families once they become widowed, an image that seems somewhat incongruous with a country parading itself as an economic super-power.
As advantageous as these modernisations are to India, pushing forward a much-needed progressive agenda, the survey emphasises just how important it is that women, and their respective rights and wellbeing, are made a central feature on the agenda of progress.
Somalia was placed fifth, mainly due to their atrocious records of female genital mutilation and exceedingly poor healthcare and education access particularly for girls. In a statement that is frighteningly relevant to most developing countries listed, the Somali Women’s Officer spoke openly about the horrors of life as a woman in Somalia.
“The most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant. When a woman becomes pregnant her life is 50-50 because there is no antenatal care at all. There are no hospitals, no healthcare, no nothing.
“Add to that the rape cases that happen on a daily basis, the female genital mutilation that is being done to every single girl in Somalia. Add to that the famine and the drought. Add to that the fighting which means you can die any minute, any day.”