By Syed Mohammad Ali
June 19, 2011
By now, Pakistanis are used to seeing their country’s name prop up amongst the top contenders in listings of countries describing dismal circumstances ranging from corruption to state failure. This year, our country has been ranked as the third most dangerous place in the world for women. We have lagged behind only Afghanistan and Congo. Perhaps some may take comfort in the fact that India and Somalia have also been included in this list.
But it is both sad and true that women in so many countries around the world face multiple threats. However, the basis for identifying these five countries in particular as the ‘most dangerous’ merits closer attention. The list was prepared on the basis of an ‘expert poll’, conducted by TrustLaw, which provides free legal assistance and acts as a hub of news and information on anti-corruption, governance and women rights issues. Trust Law is run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.
The Trust Law website states that women in the five countries included in their list face a barrage of threats ranging from violence and rape to dismal healthcare and honour killings. It further mentions that those polled cited cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women, including acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse.
In Pakistan’s case, Trust Law cites one Pakistani NGO representative highlighting women’s lack of protection from violence and discrimination. It quotes another statement which goes beyond criticising Pakistani laws as being discriminatory, and also points out how the judicial system condones and exacerbates the problem by failing to view violence against women as a serious violation. These statements are hard to refute.
Trust Law further cites secondary sources to point to other forms of discriminations such as a lack of access to resources including finances, land, inheritance rights, education, employment, justice, healthcare and nutrition. It is widely acknowledged that a combination of poverty and the low status awarded to women is indeed a major problem. For instance, more women die from childbirth in South Asia than any other place in the world other than sub-Saharan Africa. And more than half the women in the region cannot read or write. Such claims are hard to refute.
There is not much information about the ‘expert poll’ conducted by Trust Law. Their website does not provide much information besides mentioning that only 213 gender experts were questioned for this poll from around the world. I therefore wrote to their designated media representative, and was informed that they conducted an ‘open poll’ whereby the chosen experts could identify whatever countries they thought were the most dangerous for women facing risks such as health threats, sexual violence, and non-sexual violence. I made some follow-on queries but did not get a satisfactory response.
Without trying to ignore or refute the severe and multidimensional problems faced by women in our country, it is hard to trust the claims made by Trust Law. In fact, it is rather incredulous that such lacklustre methodology and small sample size have received so much international media coverage.
The writer is a researcher pursuing a doctorate at the University of Melbourne
Source: The Express Tribune, Lahore