International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year. It commemorates the movement for women’s rights. The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange. It is a global call to action to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world. By every measure – mortality, literacy, human rights, life expectancy, healthcare and income, women today are far better off than in any time in the history of mankind. However, several challenges still remain for women in the developing world, where regressive cultural practices, social stigma and religious autocracy still impede the progress of women in society. In these 5 countries in particular, woman still lack the basic rights we have taken for granted in the developed world.
At a time when awareness of women’s rights has been growing worldwide, it is paradoxical that violence against women should be on the rise in countries like Pakistan. While Pakistan’s rapid economic development has driven local women’s rights activism, women’s rights in rural areas are on a downslide. Heinous practices like forced marriages, rape, vigilante justice, acid attacks, mutilations and many such acts are performed with impunity due to the Hudood Ordinance. An estimated 1,000 Pakistani women every year are victims of so called “Honor Killings” – the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community. Women’s literacy also reflects the stark gender divide still plaguing the country. Female literacy rate is 45% against male literacy rate that is 69%. The figures are even bleaker in rural areas where up to 75% of females have no access to education.
Although women’s rights are secured under the Constitution of India, in practice, India’s women still face significant legal and social barriers to progress. Women in India continue to face several problems, including violent victimization through rape, acid throwing, dowry killings, marital rape, and the forced prostitution of young girls. In 2012, the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman. While women constitute almost half the Indian population (about 48% of the total), their representation in the work force amounts to only about one-fourth of the total.
In 2012, Somalia adopted a new Federal Constitution, which includes several statutes to guarantee the equal treatment of women. Women have since obtained greater representation in the public sphere with 30% of seats in Somalia’s Federal Parliament legally reserved for women.
Despite the recent progress made, women in Somalia are still beset by low literacy rates. As a result of years of civil war and famine, only 37.8% of Somalia’s population is literate. The literacy rate for women is even lower – 25.8% compares to 49.7% of the adult male population. Rape is also a significant issue in Somalia. Victims of sexual violence in Somalia are continuing to face persecution and social exclusion. A 2014 report from Human Rights Watch revealed that rape was considered “normal” in Somalia with perpetrators rarely brought to justice. In several cases, the military and police were either complicit in the cover up of rape cases or even took part in them.
4. Saudi Arabia
Despite being an oil-rich state with gleaming skyscrapers and futuristic cities, Saudi Arabia is still stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to women’s rights. The kingdom’s strict interpretation of Sharia Law, owing to its Wahabbist ideology has resulted in autocratic laws that severely restrict the rights of Saudi women. Women are banned from driving, they require permission from a male guardian to leave the house, and subjected to constant harrassment in public by the Religious Police.
The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 134th out of 145 countries for gender parity. Despite constituting 43.5% of the total population, Saudi women only account for 13% of the total workforce. Efforts by women’s rights activists to liberalize Saudi Arabia’s laws have been met with stubborn resistance from the Kingdom’s staunchly conservative clerics and the Saudi Royal elite.
5. Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Sub-Saharan African nation of DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) has grappled with wars, civil strife, and multiple rebellions since 1996. While peace has been re-established in most of the country, women and girls, particularly in Congo’s eastern provinces, still suffer from gender-based violence. The inferiority of women has always been embedded in the indigenous social system and reemphasized in the colonial era. Such regressive attitudes endure to this day.
The use of rape and sexual assault to terrorize them, their families, and their communities continues. Exacerbated by the culture of impunity, violence against women and girls is pervasive and extends beyond armed groups to all of society. A 2014 report by Caritas Australia estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in DRC. In 2013, the U.N. Human Development Report ranked the DRC 186th out of 187 nations on the Gender Inequality Index.
No can can dispute; human civilization has made significant progress in the field of women’s rights since the humble beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement. The world has seen a steady growth in female literacy, reduced gender pay gap, improved access to women’s healthcare and the empowerment of women. These are all achievements we should feel proud of. But while we celebrate the progress that has been made, we also need to recognize that much work is still to be done in parts of the world.