It’s A Man’s World

Misha Khan

His Royal Highness, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, has officially announced women in the conservative Muslim state will be given the right to vote for the upcoming municipal elections. For a country that does not allow women behind the wheel of a car, this decision marks a milestone for women’s rights activists both in and out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As great of an accomplishment as this is, women activists are still not content with how their sisters are treated in certain parts of the world, especially in the four countries recently dubbed “the most dangerous countries in the world for women.”

TrustLaw, an organization that provides legal aid and information on women’s rights, set out to determine which countries were the most dangerous for women. By polling more than 200 international gender experts on general perception of danger and six other issues – health threats, discrimination, cultural and religious norms, sexual violence, nonsexual violence and trafficking – TrustLaw determined that women were at the most risk in Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan due mainly to “honor killings,” and threats ranging from rape and violence to inadequate healthcare. Rounding off the list is India.

Afghanistan tops the list with about 87 percent of women who are illiterate. In a country trying to recover from several decades of war, women have a high one in eleven chance of dying during childbirth. This situation is worsened due to forced child marriages. Even though Afghan law sets the minimum marriage age at 16, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission estimates that 60-80 percent of all marriages are forced and/or underage.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, another country still reeling from the devastating effects of war and an accompanying humanitarian crisis, 1,152 women are raped every day, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

On Friday, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that troops under a former rebel commander raped 121 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivu region from June 11-13.

Last August, Margot Wallstrom, the U.N.’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, called the Democratic Republic of Congo the “rape capital of the world.”

Third on the list is Pakistan, a country where child and forced marriages are a major threat. More than 1,000 females die in honor killings every year, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission reports, and 90 percent of women are victims of domestic violence at some point. There is no such thing as marital rape in Pakistani law; five of the six men charged in a high-profile gang rape case were acquitted earlier this year.

“Pakistani women are left with little, if any, protection from violence and discrimination,” said Noreen Haider, chairperson of the Madadgar Trust for Research and Development in Pakistan, to TrustLaw. “In addition to Pakistani laws being discriminatory, the judicial system condones and exacerbates the problem by failing to view violence against women as a serious violation of women’s human rights.”

Rounding off the list, the fourth most dangerous country for women, according to TrustLaw, is India. The world’s largest democracy has an increasingly modern image and a history of electing female politicians to high office, but the top issues in the country remain selective abortion, child marriages, women trafficking and domestic servitude. Former Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta estimates that 100 million people, mostly females, are involved in trafficking in the country – not just sex trafficking, but also forced labor and marriage. About 45 percent of girls are married before they turn 18. India registered the highest trafficking risk among the countries in the poll, according to TrustLaw.

International student junior Tanya Singh calls India home. For her it came as no surprise that her country made the list because she reads about rape and violence all the time back home.

“It is a male dominated society,” explains Singh. “Women are things they entertain themselves with. People don’t even trust cops sometimes.”

Women may have come a long way from the 19th and 20th centuries but statistics about the way they are treated all over the world continue to shock women’s activists everywhere. More needs to be done other than raising awareness. As Singh simply says, nothing is going to change until people actually start respecting women.