The World's 5 Worst Places For Women -- And How U.S. Policy Helped Make Them That Way
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When checking the nuclear ambitions of dictators or building “democracy” in Baghdad, politicians tend to justify foreign policy by touting America as an international “beacon” of freedom and equality. A new report on the world's five most dangerous countries for women is a predictable listing of places not yet reached by the light of America's democratic promise. Beneath the surface, though, many of the misfortunes that plague women in places like Afghanistan can be traced back to a cruel political consensus in Washington.
According to a report by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the most dangerous countries for women are Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia. The ranking, based on a poll of gender experts (with a statistically based methodology), measures major threats to the welfare of women and girls: “sexual violence; non-sexual violence; cultural or religious factors; discrimination and lack of access to resources; and trafficking.” Some of the more dismal points:
- About nine in 10 Afghan women are illiterate.
- In Somalia, where maternal mortality remains extraordinarily high, fewer than 10 percent of women give birth in a standard health facility.
- Some 100 million people in India, mostly girls and women, fall victim to trafficking. Female infanticide and “ feticide” (referring to sex-selective abortion) are also widespread.
- One study estimated that 420,000 rapes occur over the course of a year in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Women in Pakistan earn about 80 percent less than men, and 90 percent of them experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
Siphoning these injustices into categories is a bit misleading: poverty, inadequate health care, sexual exploitation and violence are all links in a chain of gender oppression, roping women into a cycle of political and economic disempowerment.
And these problems share another connection, to Washington's foreign policy.
Since the invasion of Afghanistan, the human rights situation has in many ways actually deteriorated amid constant war, a weak and corrupt puppet government, and the ascendance of reactionary forces aligned with warlords and the Taliban. The collapse of accountability falls hard on women, as the breakdown of the education, health care and legal systems further degrade women's access to justice and social opportunity. And so, while the “liberation” of Afghan women has been held up as a chief goal of Western military intervention, following the Taliban's decline, the U.S. occupation has ushered in another wave of oppression.
Both Washington and Kabul have exposed the bankruptcy of promises of gender equity by ignoring and abetting the systematic abuse of women. It is appalling that young girls are attacked for attending school, but it's unconscionable for Western powers to wield the tragedy as a cudgel to defend imperial warfare.
Washington's military aid to Pakistan has been fueled by a similar approach toward “stabilizing” the region through war and “counter-terrorism.” Raining bombs on Pakistan won't relieve the country's deep poverty, now exacerbated by last year's catastrophic flooding. Nor do the Pentagon's drone attacks win hearts and minds when they kill and injure civilian families and stoke even more local resentment.
Though the U.S. has relatively friendly relations with India, rights advocates have called for both governments to end " war on terror" crackdowns that lead to human rights abuses. The U.S. has encouraged political impunity by fostering the militarization of India. Meanwhile Western-style globalization has driven neoliberal rural development policies that erode public resources and disenfranchise women. The structural violence embedded in this type of “modernization” is at odds with even Washington's own aid programs for Indian women's health and civil rights.