‘Top 5′ worst countries for women are the tip of the iceberg
Afghanistan tops the list of the most dangerous places in the world to be born a woman, according to poll results released by the Thompson Reuters Foundation to launch their commendable new TrustLaw Woman project. The other countries in this grim ‘top 5’ are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia.
Women in Afghanistan
We know the severity of the problem in Afghanistan because we have spent 10 years working with women’s organisations there. In that time we have seen advances in women’s rights – such as the provision of gender equality in the new Constitution, and the establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs – but there is a big gap between rhetoric and reality, and what has been achieved can feel like a drop in the ocean.
Over half of all girls in Afghanistan are married before they turn 16. Between 60 and 80s% of all marriages are forced. The practice of baad – where a girl is given away to settle a dispute – is widespread. Traditional practices like these, in combination with the fact that women are shut out of employment, education, decision-making, peace-building, even out of public spaces, keep thousands of women locked in violent relationships.
The big picture
This poll is a very effective way to draw attention to the terrifying scale and severity of the violation of women’s human rights in these countries (and their often ‘hidden’ nature, in the case of India). We have our own problems in the UK of course, and it is easy to forget the bigger picture. But if we do we make a grave mistake, because it’s bigger than many people realise: in no state in the world do women enjoy the same rights, access to resources or opportunities as men. Women on every continent and in every country are affected by violence.
Making a ‘top 5’ list is a good way of making a point. But we need to keep the focus wide – inequality is a global problem and it needs a global answer. We mustn’t limit our attention to the ‘worst’ countries at the expense of the others where women face towering poverty, violence and discrimination. For example, in South Africa a woman is raped every 26 seconds. 81% of Ethiopian women believe their husbands have the right to beat them. In Sierra Leone 3 out of 4 women are illiterate, and 96% of women aged 25-49 have undergone Female Genital Mutilation. Accusations of witchcraft against women in Nepal – and the persecution that follows – are increasing.
The list is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go to reach a world in which women everywhere are equal, respected and proud. But we must be careful not to restrict our focus to the very ‘worst’ countries, or we are letting down the women all over the developing world who are working for change.