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– Radhika Maheshwari

In a recent bizarre report of a poll conducted by The Thomson Reuters Foundation that surveyed about 550 experts on women’s issues, India was pronounced “the most dangerous country in the world for women”.  The labeling of India as the top most dangerous place for women amongst all world’s countries created shock waves across the nation.

Thomas Reuters Organization had conducted its second poll to see if the situation had changed amongst the safety of women across the globe. They asked experts in the field about the various issues that women face, and which cities need to bring about significant changes to ensure safety for women alongside providing them with sufficient access to healthcare, finance and education. The present poll looked into the matter of the steps taken to address the overall risks faced by women, and specifically regarding healthcare, access to economic resources, customary practices, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking.

The poll was a repeat of a survey in 2011 that found experts seeing Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia as the most dangerous countries for women.

The survey asked respondents which five of the 193 United Nations member states they thought were most dangerous for women and which country was worst in terms of healthcare, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking.

Respondents also ranked India the most dangerous country for women in terms of human trafficking, including sex slavery and domestic servitude, and for customary practices such as forced marriage, stoning and female infanticide.

What’s the reality?

While the report has created a buzz in the world as well as across the nation, a large number of people are questioning the authenticity of the report. The new survey has been criticized in India, with many questioning, how countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, which grant far fewer rights to women, managed to perform better. Debate over the state of women in India has reinforced after Thomson Reuters Foundation released ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Countries for Women, 2018’ report on 26th June, which declared India as the worst country for women’s safety.

It relies completely on the opinion and verdict of the 548 experts. They include academics, policymakers, journalists and those working in healthcare or other development sectors.

Healthcare: Healthcare includes access to specialist doctors like optometrists and dentists with expertise in treating diseases and dealing with trauma. India was ranked the fourth worst on healthcare, above Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

Gender discrimination: This includes discrimination in employment, inability to make a livelihood, discriminatory land, property or inheritance rights, lack of access to education and lack of access to adequate nutrition. On this front, India was ranked the third worst, after Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Pakistan and Bangladesh also featured in the top 10.

Cultural traditions: India was ranked the worst country in the world, for women, as far as cultural traditions are concerned, even worse than Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The researchers examined cases of acid attacks, female genital mutilation, child marriages, forced marriages, stoning, physical abuse and mutilation as forms of punishment or retribution, as well as female infanticides. But according to a report of WHO, India is not even mentioned in the list of 29 countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent.

Sexual violence: India was ranked the worst country on this parameter, which includes rape as a “weapon of war”. It also includes domestic rapes, lack of access to justice in a rape case, sexual harassment and coercion into sex “as a form of corruption”. While the Democratic Republic of Congo was ranked the second-worst, the United States surprisingly came in third from bottom. The survey claims that India is also worst in sexual violence against women, ranking over countries like Congo, Syria and the US.

The United Nations report ‘The World’s Women 2015’, however, portrays an entirely different picture. The report says that the percentage of the women between 15 and 49, who faced sexual violence at least once in a life time in India, was less than 10 per cent, while there are many countries where the percentage was as high as 20 to 30.

Non-sexual violence: This category refers to violence against women, that doesn’t fall under the category of sexual crimes and include domestic, physical and mental abuse. India was the third-worst country in the world, only behind Syria and Afghanistan. The US was in the sixth position.

Human trafficking: Thomson Reuters defined human trafficking as “domestic servitude, bonded labour, forced labour, forced marriage and sexual slavery”. This is another criterion that critically mutilated India, being ranked the worst in the world, behind Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria and Russia. Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan also rank in the bottom 10. Libya, Nigeria and Russia were the only non-Asian countries in the list, which also included the Philippines, Thailand and Afghanistan.

The poll surveyed 548 experts on six different indices – healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual and non-sexual violence, and human trafficking. They were first asked to name the five most dangerous countries from the list of 193 United Nations member states. And then they were asked to name the worst country in each of the above categories. India topped three – cultural traditions, sexual violence and human trafficking.

Angry and disappointed citizens all over India and world posted various tweets within hours of the release of poll report.

“The Thompson Reuters Foundation poll is based on the perception of over 500 “experts” and not on the perception of common women in India. How can Syria, where ISIS jihadis hold women captives as sex slaves, be “more safe” for women? Why is Indian media buying statistical gibberish?”, quoted Aarti Tikoo Singh, a journalist on twitter.

The country’s National Commission for Women rejected the polls outright, stating that countries where women could not speak out had done better. They also pointed out that rapes, harassment and other forms of violence against women appear to have risen in India because more cases are being reported, driven by public outrage.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development said in a statement that using “An opinion poll to peg India as the most dangerous country for women is clearly an effort to malign the nation and draw attention away from real improvements seen in recent years”.

Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), one of India’s top independent research organizations, said that this “lack of transparency” was extremely worrying. “How were these people chosen? What is the gender divide? Where are they from? This is very important to know, but there is no information available on it,” he said.

“In war-torn Syria, parents send daughters out of the country in droves to keep them safe. In Nigeria, Boko Haram abducts school girls. In Iraq, Yazidi women are made into sex slaves. And Thomson Reuters Foundation finds India the most unsafe for women. What a crooked fiction!”, said another twitterarki.

Shweta Punj, Senior Editor from India Today wrote a blog on Dailyo.in calling the survey as misleading and sensational. She in her blog quoted, “India is fighting its own battle with violence against women — whether it is female infanticide, sexual crimes, crimes of passion, trafficking, child rapes. But it is doing so in full view. NGOs, journalists, activists, artists are constantly calling out the misogyny and patriarchy every day.

Indian laws are evolving. Sensitization and training for better handling of crimes against women are in the process. Yes, not as fast or with the same urgency as it ought to be, but India is aware and mindful. Most importantly, it is fighting this battle fair and square with no holy cows and blanket bans on information outflow.”

Khaleej Times also conducted a poll on twitter wherein 7826 people voted. The poll asked “A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey shows India is the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman. Do you agree?” Over 87% people voted for a ‘No, they do not agree’ while 13% voted ‘Yes, I agree’.

Several various polls were also conducted showing same results.

Since the population of the 193 countries, which were part of this survey, varies massively, we also asked Belinda if that was taken into account for calculating the number of crimes and if the data published by the governments were used to arrive at a conclusion, she admitted not doing so.

Was it right for Thomson Reuters Foundation to rank the nations just on the basis of perceptions of a few experts without even disclosing their names and without using any government data?

Our stand is – Certainly not !

Picture: Dhiyavasu

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