The 21st century woman is powerful, strong-minded and self-made. Across the developed world, gender inequalities are being lessened. While there is still a long way to go until things are fair, giant strides are being made. But what about the billions of women yet to experience the perks of the cyber age? Women for whom violence, degradation, enforced ignorance and discrimination are an everyday fact of life.
No one country has successfully eliminated the gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, but developed countries are making great progress. Sadly, but predictably, it is the world's poorest countries where women suffer the most. As Barack Obama said in a speech in Kenya last week, to fulfil its potential and compete in the global economy, a country needs to have its women educated and employed. Unsurprisingly, the disparity between men and women in terms of education, literacy and employment is among the world's worst for the countries that make list.
While this article won't change a thing for oppressed women worldwide, awareness is the first step. So here, in no particular order, are the 10 worst countries for women in 2015...
After decades of conflict, from both foreign and domestic sources, Afghanistan is a country racked by political, economic and social turmoil. Life expectancy is just 45 for women (and only 46 for men), female literacy is at just 17%, half of brides are 16 or younger and 85% of women have experienced domestic violence. The statistics are shocking and, with the Taliban making gains across Helmand since international forces departed in late 2014, they show little sign of improving.
One of the poorest countries in one of the poorest areas in the world, men and women have a difficult life in enormous Mali, but the statistics for women are truly shocking. A disgraceful 91.4% of women reported to have experienced some degree of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in a 2013 study, a number that hadn't fallen since statistics began in 1993. In a country where to be fat is still considered to be aesthetically pleasing due to widespread malnourishment, 71% of women are married before 18 and just 25% of women are literate.
Even before ISIS took over vast a vast swathe of these two countries, Iraq's literacy rate among women had plummeted and just 14% of Syrian women were in the labour force. Focusing on the areas of these countries now under ISIS control makes for grim reading. The ISIS manifesto decrees that girls as young as nine can marry fighters, education should begin at 7 years old and end no later than 15 and women are to remain hidden and veiled. according the the BBC, there are stories of men being flogged because their wives weren't wearing gloves.
1 in 24 women dies during pregnancy and childbirth. This is largely down to deep-rooted Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, prevalent in remote areas, barring women from going to hospital. Instead, for childbirth, women are forced into a dark barn where, if they survive childbirth, they must wait 13 days before they can leave. Early marriage is still practised widely. Those who are not married or are orphaned can be sold to child traffickers, a practise that has worsened in the chaos of post-earthquake Nepal.
According to the WEF's 2014 report, Yemen is the worst country in the world for women in comparison to men. The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) also ranked Yemen in last place. Women are under the control of their husbands. They cannot leave the house or travel without their permission. Of the 301 Parliamentarians, just one is a woman. Those who are employed outside of the home tend be in agricultural labour positions, paid on a day-to-day basis. Half of women can read while 52% are married before the age of 18.
6. Ivory Coast
The Ivory Coast consistently ranks among the lowest countries in the world when it comes to their UNICEF development index score. The vast majority of children have no access to a school and, of the 14% of girls who do apply for secondary school, very few receive a sufficient education, with teaching standards reported to be amongst the world's lowest. Frequent political violence often involves the use of rape and sexual violence, although the violence has been largely curtailed in recent years. Women earn half of what men earn.
The SIGI ranks Sudan lowest in the sub-index of restricted physical integrity, meaning domestic and sexual violence against women, FGM and reproductive autonomy. According to SIGI, 'There is no law criminalising domestic violence; nor does there appear to be any legislation protecting women from sexual harassment.' There are reports of women being flogged for wearing trousers. Sickeningly, “Under customary law, rapists are able to escape punishment by marrying their victim, provided the victim’s family agrees.”
8. Democratic Republic Of Congo
The DRC is a notoriously violent country, with political disagreements often turning into militia-led violence. One of the most popular tools of control is rape, with UN investigators describing the issue to be at an 'unprecedented' level. It has lead to a rapid spread of HIV/AIDS amongst women. Considering that the vast majority of rapes go unreported, it is hallowing to read that there have been at least 200,000 reported since 1996. That amounts to almost 30 per day.
The WEF ranks Pakistan as the second worst county in terms of disparity between men and women. Just one quarter are in work compared to 86% of men. Pakistan also came second worse in economic participation for women and, consequently, they earn 82% less than men. In tribal areas of the country, as in neighbouring Afghanistan, women can be gang-raped as a punishment for men's crimes. Honour killing is also rife with over 1,000 being reported in 2014. Women have very few rights, being the legal property of their family until marriage, and that of their husband thereafter.
In 2005, the UN reported that an enormous 30% of women were married against their will, with the legal age for marriage at 15 for girls but 18 for boys. Once married, women have very few rights. Men are the legal heads of the household and have management of their wives' incomes, removing women's ability to improve their economic situation. As is decreed by Sharia law, a daughter can only receive half the amount of a boy’s inheritance from a deceased parent.
This is merely a small representation of the many different countries and ways in which women are oppressed around the world. It is shocking that these differences still exist in 2015 but they do and, as good global citizens, it's our job to highlight these disparities whenever and wherever we can. If feminism is your thing, try this project aimed at challenging the female body image in the US.