You may be surprised by the country named most unsafe for women, according to a “perception survey” conducted by Thomas Reuters Foundation.
The top slot is not Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, as some may expect. Instead, India was the country most often selected by the 548 experts — advocates on women’s rights or aid and development (for full disclosure, this includes me, though I did not pick India), academics, health workers, policymakers, non-government organization workers, journalists, and social commentators. In a similar poll conducted in 2011, India ranked fourth. The survey is based on six parameters: access to quality healthcare, gender discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking.
Many people in India are upset by the poll. For instance, the National Commission for Women (NCW) in India rejected the findings, saying, “The sample size is not representative of the country as a whole.”
The CEO of Thomson Reuters, Monique Villa, claimed that the perception poll is a snapshot, it’s a photography of the situation in the country. She said, “The fact that it’s on top of the list is not that surprising because if you think that India is the country where there is massive infanticide of girls and the gap between men and women in India is 37 million. It’s a lot against women, before you are born, you can be killed.”
My take is that people in India can argue about the methodology of this survey and take a defensive stand about the ranking, but it would just be sweeping the issue under the carpet. It’s a better use of energy to look at the facts and work to change the reality. As someone who works each day on sexual violence issues, I can attest that India can be a dangerous place for girls and women. Indeed, the news headlines say it all.
Just a few days ago, two men brutally raped and penetrated with a wooden stick a seven-year-old girl in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, before slitting her throat and leaving her for dead. Thankfully, she is expected to live. This is not an isolated incident. Across the past six months there have been several publicized cases of men gang raping young girls from the North to the South to the West and Northeast of the country. A few days ago, men gang raped female social workers in Jharkhand, Central India where the women were, ironically, working to raise awareness about human trafficking. In another case, a man abducted an eight-month-old baby, fast asleep next to her parents in Indore, raped her in an empty basement just 200 metres away from her home and then killed her.
In just seconds of searching, you can find stories of rape and violence against women and girls in any region of India. The targets range from eight-month-old babies to 80-year-old widows. The violence is very brutal in nature: gang rapes, cruel jamming of objects that damage victims’ internal organs, and even murder.
Of course, one of the most horrific cases publicized in the media is that of Jyoti Singh, a university student who was gang raped on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 and died from her injuries.
Crimes of sexual violence are severely under-reported. According the NCRB India, in 2014, 36,735 rapes were committed, 4,234 rapes were attempted and the total sexual offences under the Indian Penal code was 132,939 which amounted to just four percent of all cognizable crime. Furthermore, 72 percent of accused rapists were acquitted and more than 85 percent of those who attempted to rape someone got away with it, according to the crime records bureau. Thus, the data and official statistics only reveal part of the picture.
My team at Safecity has received the stories of more than 11,000 women, mostly in India. We know that most women don’t report their experiences to the police nor make official complaints. When they do, the conviction rate is abysmally low. No wonder, then, one must depend on perception surveys to get a dipstick of reality. Is it ideal? Definitely not.
Of course, what we do have clear and accurate data on is the awful sex ratio, where in a democratic country we have 37 million more men than women. This is not a country at war nor one with a single child government enforced policy. Yet, we have a worse ratio than China -- out of choice. Girls are killed even before they are born and once they are born, people find the most creative ways to take their life: putting sand into their nose and mouth, dumping them in dustbins and starvation. This shines a light on the terrible patriarchy that governs our socio-cultural norms and limits our humanity.
So we need a robust justice system that builds confidence in women to report these crimes, where perpetrators are punished for their actions and police and judiciary make every effort to seriously adjudicate each case. Furthermore, we need increased bystander intervention to stop these crimes from happening. But this will only improve when we have addressed the core issue of socio cultural patriarchal norms that de-value the status of women and girls.
To that end, each one of us needs to hold a mirror to ourselves and decide how we can improve safety for women and girls so that one day, a “most dangerous countries for women” list no longer exists.
(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
(ElsaMarie D’Silva is the Founder & CEO of Safecity that crowdmaps sexual harassment in public spaces. She is a 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellow. You can follow her on Twitter @elsamariedsilva)