Why India will continue to be the world’s most dangerous country for women

Published: July 4, 2018
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A man walks past a graffiti depicting a message in protest against rape, in Jammu on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

India’s record on women’s safety is never too far from global attention. Over the years, India has developed a reputation of being an unsafe country for women. The latest spotlight on this has been cast by the recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey that ranked India “the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour”.

In a misogynist world that includes the likes of Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan and Afghanistan, getting the dubious distinction of being top ranked has understandably caused a great deal of indignation and outrage in India. While India’s record has been dismal, it is also fair to note that issues pertaining to women’s rights, sexual violence and gender disparity are endemic across the world and that there are different aspects to this problem seen in different countries.

Women in countries such as MexicoBolivia and Brazil are equal participants in economic life and are not compelled to cover themselves up or stay away from public spaces, unlike in conservative, segregated Islamic countries. However, these machismo laden Latin American countries still suffer from horrific sexual violence and trafficking.

For example, statistics show that 44% of Mexican women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetime and an estimated 91% of these crimes go unreported. Statistics from other countries in the region are equally disturbing. Similarly, sexual slavery and trafficking are rampant in Mexico.

The nature of the problem in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other orthodox Islamic nations is very different. In these countries, women do not have many rights and most often aren’t even allowed outside their homes without a male relative accompanying them. Till very recently, women in Saudi Arabia were not even allowed to drive.

Given this socioeconomic dynamic, the nature of the debate therefore becomes very different. Women’s exclusion from public spaces vastly reduces the scale and scope for random sexual violence like the kind seen in other parts of the world where women are out there on the streets, making a living, going to school, and generally making a presence.

The absence of alarming statistics and harrowing public narratives from these countries does not mean that women are happy, safe and secure. It just means that a lot is kept under wraps and they do not even have a voice. It’s noteworthy that rape victims in the UAE have been punished for adultery. In some countries, for rape to be proven, four witnesses are required. Women also often do not have the same inheritance or other legal rights as men. Polygamy and triple talaq (divorce) are just some practices that show just how vulnerable women are in the Islamic world.

The issues highlighted in the rest of the world are in no way meant to deflect the attention from the problem in India. While India being labelled “the most dangerous country for women” might be debatable, there is no doubt that India has a lot of ground to cover when it comes to ensuring a fair deal for its women.

Over the decades, the state has done its bit to improve women’s rights. There are no legal restrictions on women and they are increasingly stepping out of their homes and participating in economic activities across sectors and seniority levels. In large cities, it is not unusual to see young women working late night shifts at Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies, often stepping out of the office premises for a late night snack or cup of tea. They are joining the armed forces, flying as pilots, and working in high technology industries. India’s women athletes are competing on the world stage and winning medals and glory for the nation.

There are laws that protect married women from domestic abuse and prohibit social evils like dowry and female infanticide. Campaigns like “beti bachao, beti padhao” (educate your daughter, save your daughter) are intended to change patriarchal mindsets.

These factors demonstrate that the status of Indian women is gradually improving, and in large measures, they have the opportunity and the platform to move out of their traditional restrictions and fulfil their ambitions.

However, despite these initiatives and improvements, sociocultural attitudes are still highly prejudiced towards women, and mindsets are still locked in patriarchy across vast swaths of the country. So while on paper, many laws exist in favour of women, getting them enforced equitably by state machinery that comprises of individuals with a deeply patriarchal mindset, is a daunting task.

A corrupt and stretched law enforcement system also makes it easier for sexual criminals to escape the consequences for their actions, thereby reducing the power of deterrence.

In recent times, the government has disappointed by not pushing through legislation on marital rape under the pretext of “Indian family values” and has also made some attempts to weaken anti-dowry harassment provisions. The orthodox segments of society have successfully projected their counter-narrative, thereby causing a setback to some of the progress of the last few decades.

The pace of social change is also painfully slow. Women are considered inferior and the girl child is still seen as a burden in large parts of the country. Dowry, though illegal, is widely prevalent. Domestic violence and exploitation are endemic and women have little recourse, either due to economic compulsions or social stigmas.

India is at a point where different segments of society are at different stages of social evolution. Males with regressive mindsets see girls out and view them as “fair game”. The increased presence of women in public spaces increases the “opportunities” for violent encounters, especially given the country’s primitive law enforcement systems.

This brings us to an important area that needs to be tackled, and that is the sense of male entitlement. Most government campaigns have thus far focused on parents or would-be parents of girl children, encouraging them to allow their daughters to grow and flourish. However, it is equally important for the parents of male children to instil the right values and gender sensitivity in their sons. For Indian women to be truly empowered and free, Indian men need to be taught to be less of predators and more of enablers.

And in this endeavour, a judicious mix of positive reinforcement and deterrence is required. Zero tolerance from sexual misbehaviour is a starting point. Stricter action must be taken by the police and courts in cases of sexual misconduct.

Much deviant behaviour gets legitimised through media, like films and songs. Indian movies and songs can still be seen reinforcing and condoning regressive behaviour such as stalking and “not taking no for an answer”. Indian media needs to be more circumspect about the values they showcase. The ideas of machismo, female subservience and male entitlement need to be completely dismantled in Indian society.

The pace of change and improvement in the lives of Indian women needs to be hastened. There is no escaping the fact that India has failed millions of its daughters and continues its ambivalence to their wellbeing. This is unconscionable and unpardonable. Till the nation tackles this issue head-on and applies its collective will to driving mass change, India will continue to feature on lists that highlight the worst countries for women.

Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (twitter.com/amitnangia06)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vijay !

    India the worst country in the world for women? NO WAY !!!
    The indian habit of periodically calling ourself rape country and Delhi, world capital of rape has encouraged Reuters news agency of using a brush to tar us all. Our rape per capita figures are lower than most countries in the world. It can be checked on the net.

    Our principal leaders also let Reuters dictate an accusation which was patently false . Guys have some send respect. Don’t fall in this trap of believing something just because a gora (whiteman) says it. We do have a problem of gender equality. But no way are we the worst in the world. We are surely not amongst the worst in treatment of women.

    A) our rape laws are amongst the strongest in the world. So strong that they are being misused

    B) Rape statistics of US, Australia, South Africa and a host of other countries are much worse. Islamic countries don’t even report rape and China does not make them public

    C) we are bad in gender ratio. However China, Vietnam, Hong Kong and many other countries are worse of. The Indian govt has taken concrete steps to ensure that prenatal female foetus is not aborted. The gender ratio is improving

    D) Our property laws give equal property rights to girls. At least 56 countries including Sharia following countries give less than half the inherited property rights to a girl as compared to a male child.

    E) In courts as complainant and witness, girls have equal rights. At least 50 countries, including those following Sharia give less rights to females as compared to males

    F) There is no restriction to girls to follow any profession of choice or be forced to follow any dress

    G) In many countries, old women are just dumped in old age homes to die. In India, the family system takes care of the old

    H) There is no legal or social mandate to allow bad practices on women like female genital mutilation

    This list is long. Reuters has done a bad job. Let us spread this message so that we collectively launch a 100 crore case of damages on Reuters.Recommend

  • wb

    “Women’s exclusion from public spaces vastly reduces the scale and scope for random sexual violence like the kind seen in other parts of the world where women are out there on the streets, making a living, going to school, and generally making a presence.”

    That is absolute nonsense and you don’t have any statistics to prove that except for assumptions. In fact, this is the same narrative that Muslims use to throw women in burqas and keep them inside the houses. And you’re propagating their lies.

    In fact, a women is abused more in such societies where marital rapes, spousal abuses, absolute lack of rights, incest rapes, are rampant, and are not even considered a crime by many. Most countries, including India do not consider marital rape even a possibility, let alone a reality.Recommend

  • sterry

    There is something fundamentally wrong in Indian society which needs to be addressed. Unless people in India wake up and accept reality, India will always be known as the Rape Capital of the World.Recommend

  • http://thoughtsandotherthing.blogspot.fr/2015/09/hyderabad-as-i-know-and-feel.html Supriya Arcot

    Blame it on the skewed X ratio. With reduced num of women , many men are not able to get married leading to frustrations , tensions , resentment …Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Indian society.
    India’s rape per 100,000 is 14 times less than Pakistan.
    Rape per 100,000
    India: 1.8
    Pakistan: 28.0
    Similar demographics and socio-economic conditions. India’s rape problem is far less than its neighbors. You can Google Rape per 100,000 and find out for yourself.Recommend

  • Patwari

    A woman is raped every 7 minutes in Hindustan.
    These are figures from your very own govt. in “Dilli”.
    Nobody gives a doozy wheather YOU believe them or not.
    These are cold, hard, ugly, facts. Understandably, hard to accept
    When it comes to Dalit Hindu women raped by non Dalit Hindu
    men, the numbers become horrendous. This is data from reported
    cases. Imagine what goes unreported.
    Best thing to do is bury your head in the sand, like an ostrich, in Banares.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Humza, you are correct, regarding violence against women in Bharat.
    Just as Punjab is the “Corruption Capital of the World”. Numero Uno
    Thanks to your Punjabi leaders like Darbari Sharif, his brother Munna Sharif,
    his daughter, foul mouthed Maryam Sharif, his son in law, Kuptaan Safdar retd.
    his London wala samdhi, Ishaq Dar, his nephew of Saaf Pani Scheme, his two
    sons, declared absconders, in London,…
    All have corruption cases filed against them. Some are absconders, estimated
    billions were removed. Leaving Pakistan near bankruptcy.
    This can go on for pages.Recommend

  • wb

    Thank you for the entertainment.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Agree with you. Read it somewhere that for every 1000 men
    there are only 750 women in Bharat.
    [this may not be very accurate, but it’s there.]
    Not to mention that women tend to live longer then men, yet…Recommend

  • God Particle

    Dude it’s all GEOPOLITICS…..West don’t like India China rapprochement and now try to affect India’s General elections next year by their reports, UNHRC report etcRecommend

  • FAZ

    The problem is that Indians rape foreign women more and there are many news that are highlighted. Also in your statistics please drag countries other than Pakistan as well. Like USA for instance, and try to wonder why the perception of India being dangerous for women is more persuasive than USA. Just like USA will always be labelled as a place where guns are more easy to procure than anything else for that matter. And do get out of Pakistan phobia please.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Your comment got me thinking and I looked up some stats :
    Ratio of men : women
    U.A.E. 274 m to 100 w ( highest in the world )
    Oman. 197 m to 100 w
    KSA. 130 m to. 100 w
    Bhutan. 116 m to 100 w
    INDIA 107 m. to. 100 w
    China. 106 m to. 100 w
    Australia. 100 m to 100 w
    I know statistics can be misleading at times…..but I feel the problem is more to do with laws and their implementation and society plus cultural conditions that play a big part.Recommend

  • Patwari

    So sorry. But there is a fundamental glaring glitch in your reader board of “statistics” that you provided.
    Very likely they did not have statistic capabilities, during Louis the XIV [fourteenth] era. After all, his wife, Marie, did say ‘they should eat cake, if there is no bread’.
    Hopefully you are aware that with the exception of Bhutan and China, countries like :- Saudia, Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, have mega huge populations of male foreign workers. Who help run these countries.
    From cleaning toilets to construction, to airing the baby in the park to driving taxis.
    Obviously the male to female ratio would be very high. So simple.
    Now Hindustan has a population of nearly 2 billion. Never mind what their govt. says. A vast majority are left uncounted. Specially Dalits and others belonging
    to low castes. Plus Gypsies who are secretive and suspicious of any counting attempts. Higher caste census takers simply avoid them all, do not interface.
    Bhutan? The country is full of monasteries, teeming with monks, clinging to mountain sides. There are eighteen yaks seven sheep and 9 goats there too.
    Monks do not marry.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The basic fact still remains that the male far outnumbers the female and the incidents of abuse are much less…and so I maintain it reason is implementation of laws, societal and cultural issues……and you are most welcome to come back with a ‘ smart ‘ reply.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Would love to. See, it’s like this, in your words ‘societal and cultural issues’
    prevents an even discourse, with a contemporary of Bhagirathi Sapre.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Nope. This Rape foreign women more is also statistically very minute. India gets millions of visitors every month.

    The report of Rape in India has gone up in the last 10 years, which his a good thing. It can happens only if the Rape is not a taboo anymore and persecution of victim is not done. All these things are happening in India, which is a welcome move.

    Advanced countries have almost very high reporting % since there is no taboo around Rape. India has a long way to go, but certainly better than its neighbors.

    You call it phobia, I call it reality.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Try and focus ….you are rambling and not really making sense….and if you credit me with being the contemporary of the Jhansi period….you unintentionally flatter me.
    This conversation is going nowhere …..sadly. So I shall sign off.Recommend

  • Patwari

    It was never intended to go anywhere. Have you ever had a
    discourse with, say a wall? A stone? A banyan tree? Laxmibai?
    Sure laser focused. But hard to maintain a reasonable discourse
    with someone who is obstinate, [defined as ‘unthinking’].Recommend

  • Sane

    Amusing to note ‘RAPE PER CAPITA’. Keep the dust under carpet.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Very wrong. Ask a woman, if rape is taboo, for her.
    If she would like the whole village, her city, her country
    to know that she was raped. Don’t just assume how a
    woman will feel or react to rape.
    THIS GOES FOR ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
    Including the Rape Capital of the World. Bharat.
    You can call it realty. The world calls it Misogynist
    Mindset.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    So you are saying Rape is not a taboo in India? What are you smoking?

    Pakistan has 14 times more per capita rape than India. How can India be the rape capital of the world?Recommend