Index of shame

In the UK we often take for granted what we consider small freedoms, and while there is certainly a long way to go in terms of equality, women are relatively free to do and say as they please without fear. But this just isn’t the case for many women in some parts of the world.

Today’s Guardian story serves as a stark reminder of the shocking reality. A global survey of the ‘worst places in the world to be a woman’ compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation names and shames the worst perpetrators. It lists countries and governments who have completely neglected the rights of women, who as a result live in constant fear. Many are victims of conflict, cultural customs, or extremism which means they are vulnerable to horrific abuses committed with impunity.

Afghanistan takes the top spot and is ranked number one as the world’s most dangerous place to be a woman. It makes for grim reading with targeted violence against women, poor healthcare and poverty. The combination of these factors and Afghanistan being a live conflict zone mean that many women live in a climate of hostility. Amnesty has documented intimidation of women and girls by the Taleban and armed groups who are also responsible for brutal punishment including amputations and execution by stoning. Female aid workers on humanitarian missions have also been targeted.

The Democratic Republic of Congo takes the grim title of ‘rape capital of the world’. Sexual and gender-based violence is widespread in eastern DRC and committed by all sides to the conflicts, including the government forces that the United Nations is supporting.  Just last year the world reeled in shock at the revelation that about 150 women and girls (mainly) were subjected to mass rape by members of armed groups, including the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR). Reports indicate that the rape was organised and systematic.

Another country in the grip of militant groups and armed conflict is Somalia where the plight of women is under reported. A human rights documentation officer described the country as "a woman's hell on earth." and the survey cites domestic violence, lack of healthcare, poor antenatal health care as major issues. Female genital Mutilation is also rife in the country and Amnesty International has long campaigned for an end to the practice.

Pakistan and India also featured, taking third and fourth place. Pakistan’s tribal and religious practices were cited as harmful to women and included acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment by stoning. Honour killings and forced early marriage also featured prominently. As many as 1,000 women and girls die in honour killings annually according to Pakistan's human rights commission. India was noted for its endemic domestic violence. Poverty and illiteracy also contributed to women’s low social status which was also reflected in the widespread practice of female infanticide, the killing of girls at birth because of their gender. Many young girls are deprived of a start to life because they are deemed inferior in terms of social standing and future prospects.

All in all it is appalling that governments are failing in their obligation to protect the basic rights of women. We have seen time and again how women are disproportionately affected in instances of conflict and some of these results show the shocking levels of violence that have become a part of everyday life. While it is an ongoing stuggle to retain our hard won rights, in some parts of the world the fight to even establish them has barely begun.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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