- A ranking released today, on Women's Day, reveals that among the top-ten worst countries for women, seven are African. Female genital mutilation, sexual and violence, lack of education, HIV risks and traditional discrimination are women's worst enemies in Africa.
The ranking was released by the humanitarian organisation CARE today, shedding light on the greatest challenges for women on a global scale. While Afghanistan is deemed the worst country world-wide for women to live, the ranking is saddening lecture for African women as well.
Afghanistan is ranked worst of all countries, with extremely high maternal death rates and 90 percent of Afghan women falling victim to domestic violence. A 2009 law even legalises rape within marriage, accepts child marriages and gives Afghan husbands the right to deny their wives both education and jobs.
Somalia ranks as the second worst country world-wide for women. Somali girls are given away for marriage very young and violence against girls and women is very widespread. Traditional laws, used in lack of a state judiciary, are highly discriminatory against women, and female genital mutilation victimises an estimated 98 percent of Somali women.
Third on the ranking is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where around 36 women and girls still are being raped each day. An estimated 200,000 women and children have been raped during the Congolese war as part of a systematic terrorising of civilians. Raped girls are often double victims as many are rejected from their families and villages, some even being forced to marry their rapist. There are few possibilities for victimised Congolese women to seek justice in the war-torn country.
Fourth on the ranking is Sierra Leone, mostly due to still lasting effects of the civil war that ended in 2002 and had left a large part of young women HIV infected. Also in Sierra Leone, rape was a systematic arm in the conflict. Health and education standards are also extremely poor, with only 24 percent of women being able to read and write. One in eight pregnant women die in connection with child births and 282 of 1000 babies die within their first five years.
Niger is the poorest ranked country not having lived through a civil war. Niger's extreme poverty put it fifth on the rank. Families struggle with food security and health issues. Only 4 percent of women have access to birth control methods; 67 percent of child births happen without professional help, resulting that one in seven Nigerien mothers die in the process. Traditions finally lead to a very low marriage age for women in Niger, with three out of four being given away for marriage before the age of 18.
On rank six and seven are the Asian countries Yemen and Bangladesh. While Yemenite girls and women struggle with fundamentalist Islamist traditions - where women are seen as the property of men - problems in Bangladesh relate both to sexist traditions and to poverty.
Mali ranks eighth on the list, mostly because of poverty and traditions. While Malian boys are sent to school, girls are kept at home to work. Therefore, only 17 percent of Malian women can read and write and only two percent of higher education students are female. A quarter of Mali's girls are given away for marriage before the age of 15, contributing to a high maternal mortality as many girls are not physically well enough matures for giving birth.
Burkina Faso is ranked ninth on the list. This is mostly for the same reasons as neighbouring Mali, although Burkinabe girls rank higher on education and health. However, HIV rates are worse in Burkina Faso, and young women are eight times more likely to be infected than men. This is closely related to the great use of prostitutes by working Burkinabe men, and it has already led to some 200,000 orphaned children in the country.
Guinea-Bissau is tenth on the list, also mostly related to poverty issues. One out of 13 Bissau women dies during pregnancy, childbirth or illegal abortions. In addition, female genital mutilation executed on 6 to 14 years old girls is a growing source of concern. About half of Bissau girls are now affected and many are infected with HIV or die during the cutting due to poor and unhygienic procedures.
The ranking, which is compiled by CARE Norway, is based on the UN's Gender Empowerment Index and Gender-related Development Index; WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and World Bank statistics of women's health; the Human Development Index and information provided from CARE offices in developing countries.
While the list is a saddening lecture over women's situation in Africa, it ignores the many successes in the countries listed, maybe with the exception of Somalia. In the DRC, rapes are on the return and women had started organising to meet the challenges. Also in Sierra Leone, the negative effects of the civil war are slowly retreating.
Also in the many West African countries listed, progress for women is being noted, especially as poverty is slowly being reduced. Female genital mutilation is on the retreat in most countries in the region, maybe with the exception of Guinea-Bissau, and education is slowly reaching a greater portion of girls and women.
And while the list focuses on the worst countries world-wide for women, Africa also includes some of the greatest success stories of women empowerment during the last decade. Rwanda and Mozambique, for example, are among the countries world-wide with the highest percentage of women parliamentarians. And the many victories around Africa inspire women groups to keep on fighting for gender equality in their countries.
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