Being a woman in 2014 means a lot of things. If you have been lucky enough to grow up and live in a developed part of the world, then you have probably come to expect basic human rights, as well as rights that women in many third world countries could never even dream of. Feminism is a big issue these days, and celebrities like Emma Watson are speaking out about what it means to be a feminist, and what needs to be done to make gender equality a reality for everyone.
We may be able to focus on issues like equal pay for men and women, and a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, but there are women in the world that don’t even have the basic rights that we take for granted. There are women who are not allowed to show an inch of skin in public for fear of being killed. There are girls who can’t attend school because they might get kidnapped and raped on their way there. There are women who still can’t vote, work, or make a single decision about their own health, because in their country, women are less than men.
While progress has been made to help women all over the world, there is still a long way to go. Education, healthcare, and giving women the power to change their own destinies are all keys to a future of gender equality that should be the norm. Here are 10 countries where simply being a woman makes life more difficult than most of us could even imagine.
The average Afghan female will only live to age 45. After three decades of war, and religion-based repression, approximately 88% of the women in Afghanistan are illiterate. Over half of all brides are under the age of 16, and up to 87% of women report having experienced domestic abuse. Many widowed mothers end up caring for, on average, 3 children on their own, leading to the over 1 million women resorting to prostitution to support themselves and their children. Afghanistan also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with one woman dying in childbirth every hour. Women for Women International is an organization working on teaching women in war torn countries skills that will allow them to support themselves, and take control of their lives.
Democratic Republic of Congo
One of the largest countries in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been at the center of political unrest for years. The Congolese Civil Wars have been raging, on and off, since 1996, leading to the deaths of more than 5.4 million people. In 2006, The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women identified the DRC as “the rape capital of the world”, and only getting worse. In a country where sexual violence against woman is considered “normal”, and used as punishment for politically active women, there is nowhere for women to turn for safety. Domestic abuse, forced prostitution, and genital mutilation are all common across the country as well.
Before the US invaded Iraq to liberate them from dictator, Saddam Hussein, women were able to wear what they chose, leave home to work and earn money for their family, and practice the religion they wanted. But because of war, and widespread conflict, the literacy rate among women has dropped dramatically, and domestic and sexual abuse has become an epidemic. Recently, the terrorist group ISIS (consisting of former al Qaeda members) has made being a woman in Iraq even more terrifying. Members of ISIS have been known to attack towns, massacre all the men and boys, and take the women and young girls as sex slaves. Women in Iraq have no choice but to do everything they can to stay invisible, or they could end up like Samira al-Nuaimi, a human rights lawyer who spoke out against ISIS and was killed for it.
In Nepal, the purpose of women is to be married off, and give birth to, and then take care of children. One in 24 will die during pregnancy, or in childbirth, and women who aren’t married off are often sold to sex traffickers before they even reach their teens. Suicide is the leading cause of death among women 15-49, partly because of the extreme discrimination and violence they face every day. Women in bigger cities, like Kathmandu, who are employed outside of the home make approximately 25% less than their male counterparts. Women Lead Nepal is the first organization in Nepal working to empower young women to become leaders, and work for equality in their community.
Although women in Sudan have made improvements under reformed laws, the western region of Darfur, is no better off. Because of the extreme civil wars that have been raging since 2003, the government has lost control of its ability to protect its citizens from vicious militia groups called the Janjaweed, who use rape and torture as tools of war. According to a 2013 UNICEF report, 88% of women in Sudan have undergone female genital mutilation, so needless to say, women’s right are far from a priority, and there is little hope of justice for the women who experience violence on a daily basis.
Women in Somalia have made great strides towards equality, and they are now guaranteed 30% of the seats in Somalia’s Federal Parliament. Sexual assault and domestic abuse is still a problem, but there has been an effort in recent years to bring the people who commit those crimes to justice. Female circumcision is still a premarital custom in order to prevent promiscuity, and offer protection from abuse. In certain areas, an estimated 97% of women have been subjected to the practice, which surprisingly was actually advocated for by other women. Available healthcare for pregnant women is still poor, and the chance of rape is always a constant concern.
During the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), violence against women increased with each passing day. Femicide, which is “the killing of females by males, because they are female” is a type of hate crime that has remained rampant in Guatemala since the war ended. 9 in every 100,000 women is a victim of femicide, which is usually preceded by torture and rape, and ends with their bodies being dumped like trash. On average, only 2% of femicide cases are even investigated, and then 90% of the men accused are not prosecuted. Also, the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Guatemalan women is the second highest in the world.
The country of Mali in Africa is one of the poorest in the world, therefore access to education, and quality healthcare is extremely limited. The estimated literacy rate is low across both sexes, but is significantly lower for women. It is rare for a woman to escape genital mutilation, with the estimated number of adult women who have endured it at 95%. Many young girls are forced into marriage, or sold into sex trafficking, because they have no way to protect themselves, and cannot resist what is considered “the norm”. Rape and domestic abuse are considered illegal, but even when women come forward, their attackers are rarely prosecuted. One in ten women in Mali die in pregnancy and childbirth because of the lack of healthcare for women.
In Pakistan, women are considered equal under the law, but that isn’t always the case in how people behave. The legal age of marriage is 16 for women, but young girls are still married off. Once married they face possible abuse, and the stress of bearing children when they are still children themselves. Honour killings are a widespread epidemic, as most people view it as acceptable to murder a woman who has “shamed the family”. In more rural areas, women are always in danger of acid attacks, mutilations, and gang rape. Vani (the exchange of women in settling disputes) is also a common way for men to work out their problems. Female activists like Malala Yousafazai, who stood up for the education of young girls, and was shot by the Taliban, want to fight for the rights of women, but are often afraid of the consequences.
While many women in Saudi Arabia attend and graduate University, and the literacy rate is at least 90%, there are other basic freedoms they are not allowed, such as the right to drive a car. Under Saudi law, women are required to have a male guardian, usually their father, brother, or husband. They are forbidden from traveling, conducting business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without the permission of their guardian. There is also an extreme emphasis put on the purity and honour of women. They are not allowed to socialize with any man who isn’t their family, and doing so could lead to being charged with adultery or prostitution. While all of this is supposed to be for the woman’s own protection, it allows men to control women by keeping them powerless and suppressed.