Move over manspreading, because there are other issues that actually mean something to us girls. In many countries across the world, we see women who face their genitals getting mutilated, their faces attacked with acid for daring not to agree to the marriage of some idiot in their village and being murdered by their own family for having the audacity to shame them by being raped. Regardless of what many will tell you, women have broadly the same opportunities as men in the UK, that is not to say there aren’t problems such as sexual assault and discriminatory hiring practices, but when women have reached the levels they have, we know we’re living in a very progressive country.
In most places in the world, being a woman isn’t fun. I do not want to downplay the feminist movement in the Western world, but here you will find that people have real problems. What you read here will hopefully, if you are a decent human being, shock and upset you, because this should NOT be happening in 2017. So let’s look at where it’s the worst to be a lovely lady.
Dishonourable Mentions go to:
- El Salvador for imprisoning women for miscarriages
- Iran, for just general misogyny
- Mexico, for the awful femicide incidents in Ciudad Juárez
- Guatemala, Central America. President: Jimmy Morales
Picture this, if you will.
A 16 year old girl lies on the street of the Río Bravo, Guatemala. In the middle of the street, she screams as fire spreads all over her body. Instead of anyone helping a poor child, they watch, many filming as she burns alive. When the fire starts to fall away, a man runs out from the crowd and throws fuel onto her. The fire spreads again and she dies.
That’s the reality in the Central American country, once home of the mighty Maya civilization. Whilst the country was the first to recognise femicide as a criminal matter, it is still a huge problem in the area, as it is in Central and South America. Less than 4% of cases result in conviction, and they’re lucky if the perpetrator is even caught. Femicide is not only a widespread issue, but sexual assault is. Hundreds of thousands of cases probably occur, but estimates are not accurate due to the unreported nature of such crimes. Similarly to femicide, the hugely patriarchal culture of Guatemala allows them to get away with it. The macho culture of South and Central America is hugely known, and as such, a culture where raped women are ‘sluts’ and women in general are objects to their fathers, husbands and other men in their lives. Female activists for a variety of activities are often attacked, neither their gender nor their profession mattering to their attackers.
It is indigenous women who suffer the most, however, a similar action that is projected across the world. Language barriers, a lack of formal education and the poverty they live in mean that they are unable to understand any rates that they might have. Many of these women are the object of sexual violence and because of their lack of rights; many have been forced into sexual trafficking, with no compensation or justice for their crimes. Whilst they are a minority, they are a significant one- around 30-40% of the population, and it is staggering that the government do not care. With a lack of political representation for both women and minorities, not much looks to change.
- Nepal, South Asia. President: Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Interesting in that it has a female President; Nepalese women still do not enjoy the full rights they deserve. One notable practice is that of Chhaupadi, a practice recently outlawed by the government. When a woman or girl gets her period, she is banished to a small shed in her family’s land, where she stays until she has finished menstruating. During this time, they are forbidden to go near men, as it is believed it will cause bad luck, such as the death of the men or the death of crops. Most foods are off limits to them, meaning they survive on the smallest foods. These sheds and huts are often freezing cold, but they are not allowed warm blankets or clothing as to keep warm. As a result, many have died, ranging from exposure to lack of oxygen when they light fires to keep warm. The practice comes from traditional Hindu superstitions about the bad luck a woman causes when menstruation occurs.
What makes Nepal so dangerous for women is the lack of healthcare and education. The rate of literacy is low, especially against other Asian countries and against male statistics, with only 20% of Muslim women having an education. Health services in Nepal are appalling, and many women die in childbirth or as a result of pregnancy. Access to neonatal care is extremely low, and most women won’t see a doctor during their pregnancy. Due to societal traditions, most women will only have family and female friends around her during childbirth- 81% have homebirths and only 10% will have qualified medical staff around her. This increases the chance of illness or death for both mother and baby, leading to one of the world’s highest levels of maternal mortality.
- Chad, Central Africa. President: Idriss Déby
For women in Chad, life is a perilous thing. As political torment rips through the region, Chad has accepted many refugees from Sudan. These women, when they dare to leave the camps in search of food and livelihoods, face sexual harassment and abuse, and not only from the people. Inside the camps, many are raped and assaulted by the guards that are supposed to be protecting them, but who instead show their power in the cruellest ways. These are not the only women who are violated, however. FGM is a huge problem, with over half the female population having undergone the procedure. Exact numbers vary depending on tribe and ethnicity, with the highest percentages hitting 90%. In Chad, it is a cultural issue as opposed to a religious one, and is equally carried out between the Christians and Muslims that make up the majority of the country.
A lack of education similar to other third world countries is also an issue. The literacy rate of Chad is less than half, and the difference between male and female literacy is 16.6% according to UNESCO. Chad has one of the highest rate of child marriages in the entire world- 72% according to reports. Child marriages have a number of consequences- higher numbers of pregnancies, more likely to die in childbirth, more likely to be abused and for the state of this point, less likely to receive an education. That is why much fewer women even get a primary education, because they are simply married at such young ages to men much, much older than them. Many young girls are also forced into prostitution or forced marriage, both of which will subject them to a life of misery. Human trafficking is a massive problem in the country, where women and children are both trafficked into and out of. Sadly, a lot of it is families selling their children, and these will more likely be daughters as they are seen as less of a use.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa. President: Joseph Zabila
Similarly to many other African countries, the DRC is wealthy in resources which have either been misused by governments or stolen by foreign countries. It is hugely unstable politically, which means a higher abuse of women. Whilst FGM is rare, sexual abuse and domestic violence is practiced on a large, large scale- and not exclusively against women. Internalised misogyny is a huge problem here, as at least ¾ of women believe that husbands, in some circumstances, have the justification to beat their wives. Marital rape is also legal, but whilst domestic violence isn’t, many women either don’t know their rights or put up with it out of fear of being cast out. With society’s women so strongly in one mindset, it is a difficult situation to change. Article 444 of the Congo Family Code even states that women owe obedience to their husbands, showing how little chance they have of escape.
The East Congo is the worst place for women, and at least 1,000 women are raped daily. Whilst one imagines it’ll be the warlords and criminals, a lot of the time the rapists are government officials and military men, many of whom see women, on whatever side, as fair game and almost as their right. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of women are rape victims but because of the sheer instability and indifference of authorities, nothing is done. Even more horribly, the majority of victims are adolescents and percentages are under the age of 10. Many boys who become child soldiers are sexually abused, making up the rather frightening percentage of abused men.
Similarly to Chad, human trafficking is a massive problem in the DRC, where it is the source of victims in Central Africa. Women and girls are forced into prostitution, even in the supposed safety of the camps. Even though many women go into prostitution out of choice (though they don’t really want to, they feel they have to survive), many are tricked or forced into it by forces more powerful than themselves.
- Saudi Arabia, Middle East. King: Salman of Saudi Arabia
Many may be surprised that Saudi Arabia is not higher, but women are on par a lot safer and have more opportunities than a lot of people on this list. That is not to say that they are any better off. Whilst they have made a fair amount of progress in terms of voting and now driving, there are still many problems in the country and that is mainly due to two things: patriarchal culture and the Wahhabism sect of Islam the country follows.
Guardianship is a hard thing for a Western woman to right about because we have absolutely nothing like it in the UK. To me, it’s completely and utterly demeaning but in Saudi Arabia, lots of women like it because they see it as Saudi men being loving and protective of them in the sphere of what they see as pure Islam. To the West and the liberals of the Middle East, it is seen as patronising at best and at worst, ridiculously misogynistic. Until recently, women had to receive permission to access healthcare: that’s right; they couldn’t go to a hospital without their guardian giving it the ok. They are unable to travel without permission amongst other things. In court, they must have their guardian speak on behalf of them and their testimony is half of any mans. All Saudis hold ID cards, and women only got them recently as they were otherwise listed as dependents- it seems they were not seen as proper people.
The extremely modest dress of Saudi Arabia is well known to the world. There is a huge debate regarding the niqab in the Western world, but at least it isn’t mandatory. Women in Saudi Arabia- Muslim or not- must cover up, all in baggy, black robes. Non-Muslims may choose not to cover their hair, but Muslims are forced to, and to avoid being harassed by the religious police, a good majority cover their faces.
This does not cover up a hidden taboo in society- sexual harassment and rape in Saudi Arabia. Proponents of the niqab believe it protects women by making them less attractive to men, who are apparently so terrible that the sight of naked skin is enough to reduce them to depraved, sinful acts. Proponents of segregation echo a similar sentiment. Yet, rape and sexual harassment still exist in the fundamentalist kingdom. Rapists are punished, but a huge judicial and societal stigma is attacked to the victim. If the rapist is guilty, the woman is seen as either impure if unmarried or an adulteress if married, which makes absolutely zero sense- it’s not her fault, of course, yet society still thinks that she is some kind of sexual pariah. If there are no witnesses or lies are told, the woman will be either done for fornication or adultery. This comes with imprisonment and flogging, as had occurred when a woman was once gang-raped and had become pregnant by one of the attackers. The number of rapes are unknown because women are too scared (and probably rightly) to report it. Sexual harassment is another issue here. A quick video online can show groups of young Saudi men leering at women covered head to toe, screaming insults or cat calling. How intimidating that must be for a young woman, especially in a public place where nobody will help her. Yet the fundamentalist dinosaurs, sorry, clerics, blame women for having the absolute audacity to go out of the house.
- Sudan, Northern African. President: Omar al-Bashir.
Whilst South Sudan, the newest country in the world, is highest on the Fragile States list, Sudan beats it due to its long history of insecurities. For women, life is incredibly dangerous and their lives are openly seen as being worth less than the men’s. As discussed in the section of Nepal, maternal health is a huge issue and many women die in childbirth; with many more unable to receive the proper help they need during pregnancy. The maternal mortality rate is high, whilst the adolescent birth rate is 61.9 out of 1,000. Conception usage is at a very low percentage, probably due to societal and religious attitudes towards the role of sex. The rate of FGM is one of the highest in the world, with around 90% of women having undergone it, usually due to pressure from the older, more traditional women in society.
The region of Darfur in the West of the country is one of huge concern to Western observers. In particular, there is a concern about the levels of sexual assault that are endemic in warzones such as this, as we have seen with the DRC. Children as young as two are targeted, and neither pregnant nor elderly women are spared from being violated. Many of these women are raped in front of their children or husbands, the latter of whom will cast them out; apparently ashamed that their wife has been raped (this is the part where I bang my head against the keyboard). Like in a large of cases in this area of the world, rapes are underreported because of the shame that is attached and the fact nothing will probably be done about it. The President, al-Bashir, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for various reasons, including the order of rape, yet he is still President. It was the government, letting women be raped for no more reason than they wanted control over society. Don’t you just love the world?
- Yemen, Middle East. President: Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi
Gripped by a terrible civil war and constant bombardment from Saudi (and Western) bombs, Yemen is in crisis. Children are starving to death yet nothing is happening, and it was recently selected the worst place to be both a woman and a child. Yemeni women have suffered from huge obstacles for many years, and rival Saudi Arabia in their limited legislative rights. Women’s testimonies are considered half of that of a man and they are not permitted to testify in certain situations, allowing innocent people to be condemned or guilty people to go free. Similarly to Saudi Arabia, they have to rely on their male guardians for a number of things, such as getting permission to leave the house. Whilst education is a right under the Yemeni constitution, yet fewer girls go to school, are more likely to dropout or not go further into secondary education. The main reason is often child marriage- 52% of Yemeni girls are child brides, but other factors such as the preference for boys are also a huge issue. FGM is allowed, but not in official clinics, so nearly all FGM procedures are done by people who have no medical training. Honour killings are not officially legal, but those who do so are given more lenient sentences.
In marriage, women are completely trapped. Marital rape is not recognised, as women are expected to always assent to their husband’s requests (or demands) for marriage. As the age of 9 is commonly recognised as the start of puberty for women (and the age when Aisha was believed to have married the Prophet Muhammad), girls can be married off at that age. Any girl can be married off as long as she is believed to be ready for sex, and according to Yemeni law, 9 years olds can be. Picture this, a terrified girl of nine on her wedding night, knowing that she cannot say no to sex. Nine years old, primary school age. As a woman, and as general human being, the thought of that makes me want to be sick all over my laptop.
I’m going to finish the Yemen segment with a story. Nujood Ali was most likely born in the same year as me. At the age of nine, she was betrothed to a man nearly twenty years older than herself. Whilst I was playing tag in primary school, Ali was ready to be a wife. After her marriage, she was frequently raped by her thirty-something husband and beaten by her in-laws, something accepted by Yemeni law. Two months after her wedding, Ali ran away and went to a court. Luckily for her, Ali had a sympathetic judge who gave her refuge whilst arresting her father and husband. At the time, the minimum age of marriage was fifteen, but families got around this by letting them marry so long as no sexual relations occurred. Her lawyer, a feminist, argued that Ali’s rape violated this contract, as though rape itself isn’t disgusting (though marital rape is apparently not a thing in Yemen). Eventually, after a lot of debate, Ali was allowed a divorce and freed from her husband. Unfortunately, many stories have surfaced of Ali’s father doing the same thing to his younger daughter, using money from Ali’s books to show he had enough money for more wives and withholding money in general. From misogyny to misogyny, Ali is no longer free.
- Pakistan, South Asia. President: Shahid Khaqan Abbasi
Notable for the fact that the country had a female leader, the famous Benazir Bhutto, the first female leader of a Muslim nature, Pakistan is still an utterly, utterly awful place to be a woman. The constitution of Pakistan stipulates equality between the sexist, but conservative attitudes and the strict implementation of Sharia law means that is not so. Firstly, the marriageable age is 16 in Pakistan, but the loose enforcement as that rule means a large amount of girls are married as children, especially amongst tribal reasons when girls are essentially married off in order to resolve disputes or pay for their family’s crimes. Dowries are common in Pakistan, which also has the dubious honour of having the highest dowry death rates in the world. Honour killings are also a massive problem in Pakistan, and the country is probably one of the most common for it. Sentences are lenient, if they even exist, and the reasons range from girls daring to date, attempt to divorce or marry someone of their choosing. Recently, popular social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her own brother for ‘disrespecting’ the family, as Baloch was known for her liberal dress and sayings in posts.
There is a disparity in educational opportunities between the genders, and the difference in literacy rate between the two is a whopping 28.1%. As a result of, or due to, child marriages, most girls will not receive a post-primary education, though 90% of girls believe they should be allowed an education. The divorce rate is extremely low, and whilst low divorce rates aren’t always bad, it shows that women will be trapped in terrible marriages. Nearly two thirds of women marry someone related to them, leading to complications in pregnancy and the deformation of their children. The rates of domestic abuse in Pakistan are some of the highest in the world, with around 80%-90% of women having suffered domestic abuse, and nearly all women surveyed said that they expect it within a marriage. Acid attacks are also very common in the country, as in other South Asian countries, with many women completely broken and disfigured for things that would not be crimes to us, though any crimes would be no excuse for it anyway.
For the Pakistani story, I will be telling you about Mukhtār Mā’ī. Her brother, at the age of 12 (yes, 12), was abducted, gang-raped and sodomized. The brother reported it, but was imprisoned in the home of a man from a different ethnic group. When the police came, the boy was accused of having an affair with his captor’s sister, a woman at least fifteen years older than him. He was arrested on charges of adultery but later freed when it became clear that it didn’t happen. Initially, the tribe settled on Mā’ī marrying a Mastoi (the group that the rapists, captor and the captor’s sister, belonged to), but the tribal elders rejected this. Mā’ī was called to apologise for her brother, but when she arrived, she was dragged away and raped by four Mastoi men, whilst others watched. After being brutally violated, the twenty year old was paraded naked through the streets of the village. Whilst society expected Mā’ī to commit suicide because she was (gasp) apparently impure, she did not let this stop her and she took it to the courts. Unfortunately, it did not go too well. Whilst six men were initially sentenced to death for their role in the heinous crime, the courts later acquitted five and commuted the last to life imprisonment. Eventually, after many attempts on the part of the victim, the Supreme Court acquitted all accused. So next time somebody tells you the government protects the innocent, please laugh.
- Somalia, Horn of Africa. President: Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
One of the most unstable regions in the world, Somalia is a powder keg. Whilst the civil war has officially ended, it is still incredibly fragile, the second most after South Sudan. For women, Somalia is a harsh place to grow up. Firstly, it has the highest rate of FGM in the world, with around 98% of women and girls having undergone it. Just freeze that on your mind for a moment. A tiny girl, often not young enough to understand, will have her genitals mutilated with a probably unclean knife, poked and prodded and sewn up like a hole in tights. She will scream and cry and if old enough, beg for it to stop, but it will just continue and continue. All because they think she is impure if she doesn’t and that it will make her a better wife, as there is less risk of her being raped or being promiscuous. What’s worse is that it is women doing it, their own mothers and grandmothers. They aren’t even doing it to be cruel; they are genuinely scared that their daughters will be put at a disadvantage if it doesn’t occur and that it is simply the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter if these women are poor, rural women or metropolitan, educated women- it will happen to them.
Somalia’s maternal mortality- around 25% of women will die in childbirth- is second only to Afghanistan. In a 2011 interview, Maryan Quasim, the then-Minister for Women (now Minister for Human Development), said that ‘when a woman is due to give birth, she just waits for delivery, praying that she doesn’t die.’ Maternity care barely exists in some regions, making pregnancy and labour the most dangerous thing for a woman. Rape statistics are low, but we all know that is because of the stigma and the fact that women can even get arrested for it happening (the charge is usually something about lying in court). Girls as young as five are raped without impunity, the lack of enforcement simply allowing it to occur. Girls who are displaced are even more at risk, as in the most volatile, war-torn regions, it is completely lawless.
- Afghanistan, South Asia. President: Ashraf Ghani.
Known for being perpetually unlucky in its domestic and foreign affairs, the landlocked country is the worst place for women to live. First on the long list is the rate of domestic violence that occurs, ranked the highest in the world as at least 85% of women have experienced it, and 60% more than once. In Afghanistan, it is simply a way of life and almost expected, as it is believed that men should properly ‘discipline’ their wives so that they are passive and submissive. In terms of protecting themselves, they just simply cannot do a thing. Article 398 of the Afghan Penal Code states that a man who discovers his wife or another family member committing adultery, and if he injures or kills one or both in order to defend his honour, then he will not be charged with violent murder or assault. Adultery is wrong, but killing someone? Not at all right. Besides, there is such hypocrisy with 398- a man will get about two years inside, but if a woman discovers her partner cheating and does the same thing, she will receive the maximum sentence- death. Furthermore, this is almost no way a domestic violence victim can get justice. A 2014 law stipulated that family members cannot testify against their own kin. Considering the deeply segregated Afghan society, the fact that physical scars are covered by a burka and that other forms of violence often cannot be seen, it tends to be only families that see it. Therefore, the 85% of women who have been victims of domestic abuse cannot do a single thing.
(On a side note, anybody who wants to read more needs to read the tragic if thoroughly absorbing A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, the author of the Kite Runner).
Though the Taliban no longer holds power, it is important to have a quick reminder of what women had to endure during their tyrannical reign:
- Women could not leave the house without a male guardian or a burka (basically Saudi Arabia but we can’t upset our oil suppliers, can we). Reminder that a lot of women could not afford the burka and if she had no male relatives, well, there wasn’t much that could be done. If she stayed in the house, she would starve, die of thirst or illnesses. If she left the house, she would be arrested and beaten.
- All women were banned from employment. Whilst some essential civil servants, doctors and nurses were allowed to stay on for a short time whilst replacements were found, but they were eventually phased out. Incomes were lost, schools were shut and most horrendously, lives were lost. Women were forbidden from being treated by male physicians and with the lack of women in the jobs, women essentially could not be treated in hospital. Whilst women could stay in midwife and gynaecology jobs, the fact that nearly all couldn’t do the job or have access to women meant many died in agony when birthing the children.
- Mental health in Afghanistan plummeted. Isolated and unable to seek treatment, many women fell into a spiral of depression. I do not need to write anymore about that, you know what depression is like.
- Under the Taliban, 80% of marriages were forced and the marriage of underage girls was often encouraged. For many women, marriage was simply a means of survival, they were at least housed and fed if wed, even if their treatment was otherwise poor. We know the violence against women in Afghanistan is high, so it leaves little to the imagination what those who were forced into matrimony had to endure. Women forced to marry Taliban fighters were herded around like cattle, thrown from man to man after their husband was killed).
- Punishments were nothing short of barbaric. Women had body parts cut off for wearing makeup, were murdered for refusing to leave their jobs and tortured for giving women an education. Stoning, a particularly heinous punishment became the en vogue thing, especially for those accused of adultery and fornication.
Let’s just add that the Wikipedia page for the treatment of women under the Taliban has the following sentence: ‘the Taliban became notorious internationally for their apparent sexism and misogyny.’ That’s it, you read it right, ‘apparent sexism and misogyny.’ Apparently, denying women healthcare, education and you know, BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, is up to interpretation. Let that sink in.
On a final note, let me tell you the tale of Bibi Aisha. In tribal areas, women are offered up as brides either in exchanges for marriages already happened or as punishment for sins family members may have committed. In this case, at the age of 12, Aisha was promised to a Taliban fighter after a member of her family killed a person. Two years later, she was married. As to be expected, she was subject to the most horrendous abuse one can endure. When, aged 18, she escaped, she was imprisoned for five months by the police before being returned, like a lost puppy. Returned to her in-laws, revenge would soon occur. Her husband and in-laws took her to the mountains and as revenge, cut off her ears and nose, leaving her to die a painful, lonely death. As luck would have it, she was rescued by some military men and some aid workers. After Time ran a cover story, featuring her mutilated face, she became known to the world. She was flown to America to receive free treatment, but her psychological state worsened and she became angry and volatile, eventually sadly being diagnosed with mental health issues (as one would expect after what the poor girl endured). When she started receiving treatment for those issues, as well as seizures and was then able to have reconstructive surgery. Now adopted by an Afghan family in the United States, Aisha’s face has been reconstructed and she is living a (hopefully) peaceful life. She is the product of violent circumstances and extreme misogyny, yet she thrives.
She and all the women here are my heroes, and they should be yours too.