India worst place for women?


The Thomson Reuters Foundation global expert poll is back after a hiatus to determine the world’s 10 most dangerous nations for women. Some 550 skilled professionals made their assessments in terms of access to healthcare, economic resources, traditional practices as well as sexual and non-sexual abuse and human trafficking.

The findings are based on surveys conducted from March 26-May 4 of this year. The result is an uncomfortable admission that women around the world suffer; whether living under foreign military occupation, caught up in an internationalised uncivil war, making their home in a so-called failed state, an Islamic republic, the world’s lone superpower or, indeed, the largest democracy.

India is rated the most dangerous place to be a woman on three fronts: sexual violence and harassment; the rather ambiguously phrased ‘cultural and traditional practices’; human trafficking, including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude. This is rather surprising. Not because we do not recognise such phenomena. We do. If only because Pakistan (number 6) has more than its fair share of experience on that front.

Yet it is a shock when contrasted with Afghanistan (number 2); a country that cannot function as a nation state without the presence of foreign troops that endeavour to wrest major portions of territory from Taliban control while battling ISIS. Or when compared to Syria (number 3), which has endured seven years of internationalised conflict and still counting.

At the other end of the list stands the US, which comes in at number 10; primarily in terms of sexual violence, including rape and lack of access to judicial redress. The survey itself notes that it was conducted in the post-#MeToo environment.

All of which raises concerns as to whether the Indian and American ‘scorecards’ are at least partially linked to an increasing number of women coming forward to report violence. And then there is the question of population sizes and the power of social media.

We say this not to be dismissive of the suffering of women anywhere in the world. But we are, nevertheless, mindful of the ratios involved. That is, 550 global experts vis-à-vis the combined female population of some 193 nations. All of which begs questions regarding sample sizes; particularly considering the survey was conducted over a less than two-month period; and which category, if any, covers refugees.

That being said, we firmly believe that such polls serve an effective means of putting governments on notice. However, unless collective responsibility is added to the mix – especially when it comes to women living in conflict — such findings do not offer entire tapestries of women’s suffering. In short, all of us need to do much more to safeguard women’s fundamental human rights.

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