As you go through life as a woman, you might have realized that your gender sometimes gets a pretty raw deal. If you’re a woman living in the US, the struggle towards gender equality has probably been on your mind. If you’re a man, it’s probably been on your mind too. There’s a good reason for that: gender equality issues are becoming more and more talked about in this day and age. There are good reasons for that too, even if they don’t really affect you. Women in the US have to deal with issues like catcalling, body shaming, workplace discrimination and much more. Regardless of how you feel about feminism, you have to agree that women have to deal with some unique issues.
While we in the US might feel that our issues are insurmountable, when we look at the plight of women in other countries worldwide, we might find that our issues don’t seem so hard to deal with. The issues that women in first world countries deal with are important, but we’re not in the same boat that women from other countries are. However, while all countries have gender equality issues, no countries have those issues quite like the 15 countries we’re going to talk about here. These aren’t just issues of discrimination and lack of care, these are issues of life and death. Here are the top 15 countries where it’s the hardest to be a woman.
We need to talk about Iraq first and foremost, not just because women have it really hard there, but because the US had a hand in creating that situation as we know it. When the US went down to Iraq, they were trying to liberate it from Saddam Hussein, or at least that’s what they told us. Whether the US went to Iraq to get their hands on the country’s oil, or they wanted revenge for the attacks on 9/11 (which Iraq had nothing to do with), or if they really did want to liberate the country from an oppressive regime, is ultimately irrelevant. That’s because the damage that was done by our country ended up making things worse. The US-led invasion ended up resulting in a ton of violence, often targeted at women and girls. On top of that, the literacy levels in the country are among the lowest, a marked decline from being the highest in the Arab world, where they were before.
Pakistani women have to deal with a myriad of issues that get a lot worse depending on where they’re from. Honor killing is still a thing out there, and in some tribal areas, women are actually gang-raped as punishment for the crimes of a man. To make matters worse, a resurgence of religious extremism has people targeting females in power, like politicians and lawyers. Some people are even targeting human rights workers. Additionally, Pakistan doesn’t have a law outlawing domestic violence, which means that some women are suffering and don’t have any legal recourse to seek justice. Actually, 90% of women in this country end up experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes. As for issues of equal pay, women in Pakistan earn 82% less than men.
Mali is one of the world’s poorest countries, so it might not come as a surprise that it made the list as one of the worst countries to live in as a woman. Very few women manage to escape genital mutilation in Mali, and it’s a major issue for the area. That’s because there aren’t any laws against female genital mutilation in Mali, which means that a lot of women have been subjected to it and there isn’t any legal recourse for those women seeking justice for it. Many women in Mali are forced into early marriages, and one in ten of them die during pregnancy or childbirth. Needless to say, it’s very hard being a woman in Mali.
India makes this list thanks to HIV. Women actually make up something like 39% of all new HIV infections in India. Domestic violence in India is an ongoing issue, and around 70% of women in India have been victims of domestic violence. To make things worse, crimes against women happen at alarming rates. A crime against a woman is committed in India every three minutes. A woman is raped over there every 29 minutes, and dowry deaths happen every 77 minutes. I’m not really sure what a dowry death is, but the fact that crimes over dowries happen at all should probably paint a decent picture of what we’re dealing with here. 50 million girls have been killed over the past century thanks to female infanticide, and 100 million girls and women end up victims of human trafficking. Nearly half of all women in India are married before the age of 18, too.
Somalia is a country that has been torn apart by civil war. With all that comes a ton of other ways to be awful to women. The civil war in Somalia actually put women in a huge place of vulnerability in a lot of ways. 95% of the women and girls there face or have faced genital mutilation. What’s worse, that happens to them when they’re between the ages of 4 and 11. That’s an issue that a lot of us in other countries don’t even really have a concept of, or have a fear of happening to us. Additionally, women don’t get to rise high politically in Somalia. Only 7.5% of parliament seats in Somalian government are held by women, which makes the fact that the US has never had a female commander in chief almost seem like a small issue in comparison. Less than ten percent of women in Somalia give birth in a health facility, too.
Syria has some of the worst gender gaps when it comes to economic participation. Only 14% of women there are in the labor force, in comparison to 76% of men. Women also don’t do well politically here: only 12% of parliamentary positions are held by women. While women live longer here, it’s one of the world’s worst countries when it comes to women’s rights. Men live, on average, 55 years in good health, while women in Syria get ten years more than they. There’s a good reason for that, though: the conflict causing the population to flee Syria as refugees. The conflict has been violent for years now and shows no real sign of slowing down. The US has tried stepping in, but if you’ve been following the news, you know how well that’s going.
The violence against women in Guatemala ramped up a lot during the Guatemalan civil war that went on for something like thirty-six years. The country and its women are still feeling the impact of that conflict even now, decades later. Guatemala has the highest rate of femicide in the world, behind only El Salvador and Jamaica. Women who are activists of some kind have it even worse, and one attack happens on these women a day. There are about 10,000 cases of reported rape in Guatemala every year, but the number is probably a lot higher thanks to social stigma. Many of those victims are young girls, and rape has been used as a war tactic in this country before. According to Doctors without Borders, "Survivors [of sexual violence] are stigmatized and they cannot easily find treatment in Guatemala yet. There are no resources and too little comprehension of patients’ needs by the doctors."
Women in Sudan have dealt with a lot of obstacles. Sudanese security forces have used intimidation, sexual violence, and a whole slew of other things to silence women across the country, especially women involved in human rights defenses. The full report can be found in a 61-page report called Good Girls Don’t Protest’: Repression and Abuse of Women Human Rights Defenders, Activists, and Protesters in Sudan. The report chronicles the Sudanese authorities’ attempts to silence women who get involved in protests, and the ones who provide legal aid and social services. Female journalists have also had to deal with a lot. “Sudanese women who defend human rights experience political repression like their male colleagues but are also vulnerable to sexual assault and intimidation because they are women,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudanese security officials often take advantage of discriminatory laws and social conventions to silence them.” There are a lot of examples of this, so if you’re interested, check out the report. It’s a heavy read, but it’s important stuff.
7 The Democratic Republic Of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, has been torn apart by a war that’s already taken the lives of more than three million people. Many people have been victims of direct attacks and violence that was caused by the war, including attacks from different warring parties or armed militias. Women suffered the brunt of this violence. Women in the Congo deal with rape as a harsh reality: around 1,100 women are raped every day, and since 1996, more than 200,000 rapes have been reported in the country. To make matters worse, if you’re pregnant in the Congo, you’re a lot more likely to have health issues. 57% of pregnant women are anemic, which is a big problem to have when you’re pregnant. Women can’t sign legal documents if they’re married unless they’ve got the permission of their husbands either.
Afghanistan is one of the few countries where women don’t live as long as men. Afghan women only live to an average of 45 years, which is one year less than that of an Afghan man. A huge amount of women in Afghanistan can't read, which is consistent with the three decades of war and repression they’ve been dealing with over there. Women are also discouraged from getting an education, sometimes to the point where they’re killed over it. Rape victims are often forced by law to marry their attackers. More than half of all the brides are under 16, and one woman dies in childbirth every half hour there. Up to 85% of women end up giving birth without any medical attention at all, which is pretty terrible news, considering they have the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
Women in Chad have very few rights. Arranged marriages are still very much a thing here, and when they happen, the girls who have them are around 11-12 years old. A lot of Sudanese women live in refugee camps in Eastern Chad, and those women end up facing rape and a lot of other forms of violence. You might wonder why those women would stay there, but if they leave the camps or just don’t get there in the first place, they end up being subject to anything from harassment to assault. Some of those assaults can happen because of bandits or armed groups, but sometimes they happen because members of the security forces of Chad are responsible for them.
Brunei is one of the few countries on this list that actually does have women’s rights laws on the books. That being said, Brunei has some unique issues worth talking about. Back in 2013, Brunei put out a new Syariah Penal Code Order that basically opens women, kids, and LGBT people to a ton of human rights violations. Countries that have laws like this one have a lot more issues when it comes to violence against women. Women are a lot more likely to be punished for adultery and other affairs, which means they’re a lot more likely to be subject to inhumane treatment because of these laws. Ironically, this law flies in the face of their own human rights declaration, because they made commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this law undercuts that.
According to the WEF, Yemen was the worst country for women in 2014. It ranks among the worst of countries in the world when it comes to women participating in the economy and the opportunities that they have. Politically, women hold 9% of ministerial positions and none of the positions in Parliament. Child marriage is a major issue in Yemen, to the point that over half of the girl there end up married before they turn 18. 14% of women in Yemen were actually married before the age of 15, so the problem is a lot worse than you could imagine. Women don’t have as many options to get educated there, either. Only half of the women in Yemen can read, compared to 83% of the men, proving there’s a huge educational disparity there.
2 Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has a law that basically prevents women from doing much of anything without the permission of a male relative. There’s been a campaign against that, though, and more than 14,000 women have signed a petition to end the practice. This system means that in Saudi Arabia, without a man to authorize their actions, women are stuck. Women just got the ability to vote in municipal elections this year, but they don’t have many other rights. Religious beliefs even prohibit women from driving in Saudi Arabia, because clerics there think that women driving undermines social values. They can’t “show off their beauty,” compete in sports or even interact with men the way they want. Luckily, women are standing up for themselves in Saudi Arabia and making it clear with campaigns like this one that they’re not going to stand for being treated like children or second class citizens any longer. Campaigns like this might make it less easy to question Saudi Arabia’s track record on human rights.
When you’re known as the “femicide capital of the world,” it only makes sense that you top this list. According to Global Citizen, a woman is killed in Honduras every 18 hours, which is already bad enough. What makes this that much worse is that people who kill women in Honduras are getting away with it. The femicide impunity rate is something about 90%, which means that if you kill a woman in this country, you might just not get any punishment for it at all. The reasons why this happens has a lot to do with the lack of accountability in the legal system, drug and human trafficking, and the fact that women simply don’t have a lot of resources down there. All of this happening means that women aren’t able to live safe, successful lies, and it’s a lot harder for them to reach their full potential.