This week’s outrage meter was activated by the report on the World’s Most Dangerous Countries for women, published by the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In a world dominated by the Syrian conflict, ISIS terror, the troubles in Afghanistan, South African violence, the Mexican Cartels, the Congolese civil war, the middle Eastern crisis, the refugee crisis, all of which take their toll on women’s lives, safety, security, India ranks the most dangerous place for women. In 2011 the foundation had carried out a similar survey and in that Afghanistan topped the list, and India was number 4.
The outrage is at three main levels. The first are government supporters who believe that the report is part of a systematic plan to show the current government of India, led by Mr Modi, in poor light. They believe it is a cabal of journalists, NGO, non-Hindu religious organisations, that are responsible for consistently showing India declining in a variety of such studies- be it the most dangerous place for journalists, or the most dangerous place for women.
The second level is those who question the methodology. There were “548 experts focused on women’s issues including aid and development professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, non-government organisation workers, journalists, and social commentators” who were polled for their views. And, their perception of safety for women, is not backed by hard data on crime or health. It is just their point of view, being passed off as world opinion.
At the third level, there is the main stream media, and political parties that have taken up the poll. Rather than ignoring it, there are vigorous debates on the pros and cons of the poll, rather than its content. People are fighting their corner hard.
The poll itself is based on six main parameters, that lead up to India’s number one position.
1. Healthcare, which include access to doctors, primary health services, optometrists, dentists, specialised services. India ranks 4th more dangerous here. While India has made tremendous progress here, despite our agreement or disagreement with the ranking, we must admit that we have a long way to go. 2. Discrimination: this includes being excluded from the formal job market, wage discrepancies, the access to livelihood, discrimination in terms of property rights, and more. India ranks number 3 here. 3. Cultural Traditions: This includes acid attacks, female genital mutilation, burning women, forced marriages, stoning, and more. India ranks number one in this, as per the poll 4. Sexual Violence: this is primarily focused around rape. Rape as a weapon of war – as used by ISIS against the Yazdis; marital rape; rape by a stranger, gang rape; coercion into sex for access to government services (corruption); access to the criminal justice system. India, according to the poll, ranks number one in this. 5. Non Sexual Violence: this is, primarily, violence associated with war, and civil war. India ranks number 3 in this. 6. Human Trafficking: which includes modern slavery, domestic servitude, forced labour, bonded labour, forced marriage, and sexual slavery. India, ranks number 1 here.
As pointed out by those, who disagree with the methodology, this ranking is based on the perception of experts than hard data put out by various ministries, or even world bodies.
One look at the list, and we all know that India has a long way to go to make the country far more equitable and safer for women. But, the question is, and it is an important one – is India the worst country on the planet for women? The answer is a resounding no.
Then what causes the perception that India is more unsafe than South Africa, where 54 percent of men have claimed to use violence or threat of violence to get sex from women; or Saudi Arabia – where raped women have been stoned for being victims of rape; or Congo – where children as young as 10 have been raped, and used as prostitutes? While India has a long way to go in terms of women’s safety and security, it is nowhere as dangerous as some of the other places on earth. So, what makes experts perceive India to be dangerous?
The answer is simpler than we think. Look at Indian news channels. The focus is on violence, and sexual violence. The gorier the story, the more the air time.
Now ask, where are the stories of law and order delivering justice? Where is the focus on restitution? Where are the stories on women led panchayats that are bringing about equity at the grassroots? Where are the stories on businesses that are delivering health care at the village level? Where are the stories of women being rescued from trafficking and resettled into a normal life?
If the media is a window into a society, then people will perceive India to be a violent, misogynist society, because that is what is shown. And, while there is violence, and sexual violence, and discrimination against women – the converse is also true. If you must change the way the world perceives India, we have to start by changing the way we see ourselves.
The problems with imprecise surveys like this, is that they become the topic of conversation, rather than the ills that it seeks to point out. While the system seeks to address the issues of perception, those perceptions arise from a break down in law and order, and the slow moving criminal justice system. It is this break down of a creaking law and order system, that needs to be tackled on a war footing.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.