The safety of women and men in any country is a matter of importance. Security, equality, and justice are fundamental human rights everyone deserves. Women from all walks of life live in a constant state of fear. They fear judgment on the basis of their gender. The innumerable threats and offences they face every day are nothing short of unimaginable. From eve-teasing at bus stops to verbal and physical abuse in their workplace and/or their own home, the world is getting messier in some places while many others are reforming for the better.
There are many countries which have earned the title of “developed countries” in the world. This is primarily concerning their economic growth and development. However, not all of them are socially developed. The feeling of inferiority to men or walking alone at night continues to be a nightmare for women in almost every country.
Figures from the Women, Peace and Security Index have shown that Northern Europe is one of the safest regions in the world for women. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East lie on the bottom end of the spectrum.
Though none of the countries received a perfect score, Norway tops the charts with Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland following them and “heading in the right direction”. The WPS Index is structured around the basic dimensions of well-being— inclusion (economic, social, and political), justice (gender discrimination), and security (at individual and community level).
Women face physical violence in developed and developing countries alike. A study by WHO shows that at least one in every three women (35%) have suffered violence by an intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Even the more prominent countries we often hear of including the United States, Germany, and Australia do not assure absolute protection for girls or women.
In the USA about 43.9% of the women experience sexual abuse other than rape. 46.7% of the victims surveyed said that the perpetrator was an acquaintance and 45.4% said they had at least one perpetrator who was an intimate partner.
In Germany, women are at risk around people they should trust the most—family. Statistics show that every five minutes, a woman is threatened, beaten, sexually abused, or psychologically traumatised, and the trend has been on the increase. It is indeed alarming that in 2017, a woman was killed by her current or former partner every two to three days.
However, a disturbing reality that prevents this issue from being significantly addressed in low-income or middle-income countries is the acceptance of exploitation and abuse of women. Women are considered to be inferior by cultural and social norms. They are expected to live a life of duty and servitude. Domestic violence is said to be justified, say for example when the wife disobeys her husband. It’s generally hard to break off from this mindset as poverty forces extended families to reside under one roof. The traditional values are passed on from one generation to the next.
Honour killing, the murder of a family member due to the belief that they have brought shame and dishonour upon the family, is another form of violence against women in some developing countries. A 2005 UNIFEM report suggests that more than one thousand women are killed every year in Pakistan for dishonouring their family. These include women who are accused of infidelity, who are suspected of engaging in premarital sex, and rape victims. Even divorcing or separating from their husband can be used as a justification for this aggravated violence. Islamic law further tends to favour this practice. The concept of women as property or their honour is so deeply ingrained in people’s minds that it becomes challenging to seek help, legal or otherwise. They are considered to be “internal family matters”, and the perpetrators often go unpunished.
Apart from the terror in homes, the constant fear of strangers in the street who might harm them haunts women. Though Ireland is the third-most developed country (according to the World Population Review) nine out of ten women feel unsafe just because of their gender; six in ten don’t feel safe taking the bus.
Less than 25% of women feel safe at night in Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, and Botswana. This may also prevent them from commuting to opportunities outside their homes.
Even using public transport is unsafe for women as they are often the subject of abuse ranging from leering looks and obscene gestures to inappropriate touching and sexual assault.
Beatriz Borges, a women’s and human rights activist from Venezuela said when young people get together, they go to someone’s house and everyone sleeps over. “If you leave after dark, your life is at risk. You can be robbed, attacked, or raped with complete impunity,” she says. Sleepovers can be considered as “cultural prevention” to avoid violence, Borges says. We’re hoping individual and “cultural” practices reform to official laws.
A lack of education further prevents women from empowering themselves. Girls are forbidden from attending school in several households because it is considered to be a waste of money to educate them. Many times, they are forced to drop out because of the sexual harassment they face.
Since the protection of women and girls largely remains a neglected issue in countries widespread, the United Nations has taken an initiative to enforce laws and policies. The UN Women’s Global Flagship Initiative, “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces” was built on “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” Global Programme launched in November 2010. The Initiative constitutes leading women organisations, UN agencies, and more than 70 global and local partners. “It is the first global programme that develops, implements, and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.” The programme began in Quito, Ecuador; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India, and now extends to more than twenty cities across the globe.
In 2006, sexual harassment survivor and activist, Tarana Burke started the “Me Too Movement” using social media as her platform. The movement aimed at empowering women to stand up against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Millions of women from across the globe joined the movement. Every time a woman shared her experience and another said “me too,” this gave women confidence and reassured them that they are not alone in this battle of unpunishable behaviour.
Despite these reformations, achieving the goal of gender equality still remains nothing more than a fantasy. It doesn’t take much to figure out that the problem lies in the existing cultural and social tenets. It lies in the traditional mindset — the acceptance of women being secondary to men.
A woman’s identity is not solely marked by wifehood or motherhood; she’s also a human being with individuality.
Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women. The least she deserves is respect and social status at par with a man.
Images Courtesy: Dazed Digital, iStock
Sources: WPS Index 2019-20 Report, Status of Women Data, Condition of Women in Developing Countries by Michelle Fram Cohen, National Geographic
Written by Tulika Somani and Vaishnavi Karkare for MTTN
Featured Image by Ishika Somany and Samara Chandavarkar for MTTN