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A new Thomson Reuters Foundation study places India as ‘the world’s most dangerous country for women’ and predictably, we have erupted in outrage. Here’s a closer look at all such surveys that rank countries.
My Facebook timeline is equally divided between those sharing the survey results saying, “I told you India is a horrible place for women” and those pointing out that the survey is not actually based on statistics about violence, but on ‘perceptions’ of experts.
Indeed, as a former market researcher, I cringed at seeing the headline on the Thomson Reuters website which says, ‘India most dangerous country for women with sexual violence rife – global poll’ – which implies a degree of fact, when the poll is actually based on perception. There are serious shortcomings with a perception based approach to measuring violence. How many experts really have full awareness of the socio-cultural-political situation of each country around the world? Moreover, media reporting of violence in each country plays a big role in shaping individuals’ perceptions of violence.
What purpose does a study of this nature serve?
Presenting results of such a study on a ‘worst to best’ scale allows even poor performers to feel good about themselves. It is hard to imagine that a country like Saudi Arabia where adult women must still suffer the ‘guardianship’ of a male member of the family, or one like Syria that is still embroiled in civil war, are good places for women in any manner; nonetheless, Saudi Arabia can now pat itself for not being the absolutely worst place on the list!
What’s more, the absurdity of ranking India as worse than war-torn countries like Syria gives enough ammunition to those who think all Indian demands for women’s rights are a Western-fuelled conspiracy. I’m already seeing enough social media chatter around this conspiracy theory.
The reality is that women face violence in every country across the world. It is important to study each country in itself, to understand the level of violence against women, what is driving the violence, and how it is specifically expressed in that cultural context. Even a perception based study needs to be based not on experts around the globe, but on experts who understand that part of the world very well. In this study for instance, I am curious to know how many experts from the 10 countries that ranked worst were actually polled.
Pitting countries in a ranked list brings out the worst in each – those at the top feel complacent and those faring poorly try to justify why their ranking is wrong. For women in each country, the fact that they are better or worse off than their sisters elsewhere is no cause for cheer.
As a woman in India, I demand that my full autonomy be respected here; even if our ranking rises miraculously to some top spot, I’m not going to cheer that I am better off than those in worse situations. This is not a ‘relative’ thing. Women everywhere, deserve better.
Image via Unsplash
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