Land of the free, home of the brave, and the ten most dangerous places on earth for women.
By Guru Ramanathan.
According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation experts’ survey conducted seven years ago, in 2011 the five most dangerous countries for women were Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia. The foundation recently updated the poll, this time expanding the number of countries to ten and seeing whether more was being done to address the risks faced by women in public, economical, and political life. Of the 193 United Nation member states that were considered, India topped the new list followed by Afghanistan and Syria in the top three. And, just in time for the past fourth of july, the United States of America came in the number ten spot.
While most of the list is comprised of countries found in Asia and Africa, the only Western country on the list is the U.S. This comes as a surprise to many, especially with the rise of the #MeToo and Times Up movements in the U.S. as of late.
The 2018 survey focused on six key areas: healthcare (e.g. general access to optometrists, dentists, general doctors); discrimination (e.g. job discrimination, lack of access to education adequate nutrition); cultural traditions (e.g. acid attacks; female genital mutilation; child marriage; stoning); sexual violence (e.g. rape, the lack of access to justice in rape cases, sexual harassment); non-sexual violence (e.g. conflict-related violence, domestic, physical and mental abuse); and human trafficking (e.g. domestic servitude, forced labour, and sexual slavery). The Thomson Reuters Foundation contacted over five hundred experts focused on women’s issues for the survey. The questionnaire was the same as the one used in 2011.
Aside from the overall ranking, each area of focus then had its own specific top ten worst list made for it and the U.S. actually did not place for most of the individual lists, including healthcare and discrimination. However, it did rank joint third in sexual violence (with Syria) and sixth in non-sexual violence. This is especially telling that, although #MeToo lets people say “It’s about time,” the ongoing change has only just begun. While the world sees Hollywood celebrate change at award shows and have filmmakers outed and blacklisted, it is important to keep in mind that the overarching problem of sexual violence has persisted and has failed to be combatted through the legal system.
For example, New York provides an interesting paradox. Right now Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is being prosecuted in New York on account of a series of sexual assault and harassment allegations. There is no statute of limitations on reporting a rape in the state of New York. However, hospitals are only required to keep rape kits for thirty days, after which DNA evidence can be destroyed. According to “I Am Evidence,” a 2018 HBO documentary directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, there are over two-hundred thousand untested rape kits and counting in the United States (at least at the time of the film’s completion).
One of the more infuriating aspects that Adlesic and Gandbhir tap into are how the survivors, who have already been objectified and abused, are further pushed into a rabbit hole upon having a rape kit completed (hence the title). Their trauma is packaged into a little box, put into a warehouse and authorities fail to revisit the cases. The issue is dangerously spread throughout the country and is perpetuated by rape culture, but now more than ever, is the time for more awareness, sensitivity, and justice.
#MeToo has forged its way into the zeitgeist so permanently that the poll results were perhaps expected by some; one wonders what the reaction would be if #MeToo had never existed. On one hand this poll could have instead acted as the wake-up call America needed, or it could just devastate a few panelists on news shows for a few weeks until it ended up being overshadowed by other news. But, right now the poll is helping snowball an ever growing call for change in how women are treated in the U.S.