Population Matters

Worst Places in the World to be a Woman

June 21st, 2011

Women around the world face grave challenges like: rape, infanticide, female genital mutilation, and sex trafficking. Last week the Thomson Reuters Foundation released a survey listing the five worst countries in the world to be a woman. The survey ranked each country by six factors: health, discrimination and lack of access to resources, cultural and religious practices, sexual violence, human trafficking, and conflict-related violence. The results showed that Afghanistan was the worst place in the world to be a woman followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia in decreasing order and interestingly all but India are also listed in the top 12 of Foreign Policy and Fund of Peace’s Failed States Index. In each of these counties woman face different challenges that pose a significant risk to their lives.

According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), Afghanistan has the second highest lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes, in Afghanistan that risk is 1 in 8. Compare that to a 1 in 4,800 chance in the United States or a 1 in 47,600 in Ireland which has the lowest lifetime risk. Women in Afghanistan also face domestic abuse, lack economic rights, and access to doctors. Many women are unable to leave the home without seeking permission from their husbands or a male relative. The poll also shows that 87% of Afghan women are illiterate and 70%-80% of women face forced marriages. All of these challenges are amidst the continuing conflict making Afghanistan the most dangerous place to be a woman in the world.

The next most dangerous place to be a woman is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most shocking and tragic statistic that makes the Congo the rape capital of the world is that every day 1152 women are raped. These rapes target all age groups including elderly women and children as young as 3. Women in the Congo are not just raped, but often gang raped and raped with bayonets or guns. Another major threat to women’s lives in the Congo is childbirth. Women in the Congo also have a very high lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes at 1 in 13 women.

Pakistan is the third most dangerous place to be a woman in the world. Pakistan has various cultural practices that endanger the lives of women among them: acid attacks, child marriage, and honor killings. Over 1,000 girls and women are the victims of honor killings every year in Pakistan and 90% of Pakistani women will experience domestic violence in their lives. Women in Pakistan also have a high lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes at 1 in 74.

The fourth worst place to be a woman is India. There is a preference for boy children in India which has led to infanticide or feticide of girl children or fetuses. This has an estimated 50 million “missing” girls over the past century.  There is also a cultural tradition of child marriages with 44.5% of all girls married before the age of 18. Another major threat to women and girls is trafficking, with about 100 million women and girls being trafficked in India. Women in India also face a 1 in 70 lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes.

Lastly, ( I think you say lastly instead of last when you’re putting it in front like this)coming in at the number five worst place to be a woman, is Somalia. The biggest threat to virtually all women is female genital mutilation which is performed on 95% of Somali women mostly between the ages of 4 to 11. Somali women also face a large threat to their lives in childbirth with only 9% of childbirths occurring in a health facility. This leads to Somali women having a very high lifetime risk of dying due to maternal related causes with the risk at 1 in 12.

Looking at the five worst countries for women to live in makes me think about what we can do to make life better for women in those countries.  One important thing we can do is push the United States to take a leadership role to ensure that countries around the world are working to advance the rights and status of women. One way the United States can show its leadership is by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses exclusively on women’s rights and gender equality. The convention sets a global definition for discrimination against women and outlines a plan to end that discrimination. Those states that ratify the convention are required to take, “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”

The failure of the United States to ratify CEDAW is a glaring blemish on our record of advocacy for human rights around the world and a disservice to the women of the world. The United States is one of only seven countries who have not ratified the convention along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Nauru, and Tonga. Is this the kind of company the United States wants to keep? It is time for the U.S. Senate to think of women around the world and step up to ratify CEDAW.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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