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How Dangerous Is India For Women? A Reading Of Reuters’ Report

Recently, a flush of articles popped up in my Facebook feed: “India ranked the most dangerous country for women!”, “India most dangerous for women, Afghanistan and Syria follow”. My heart plunged, it was like looking at your term report card and seeing all Fs. The sweaty hands, the dejected feeling, and disgust at oneself. Usually, in such situations, my defence mechanisms kick in and I move onto something new. But the meme game wasn’t strong today and I began feeling overwhelmingly curious to see where we were so terribly underperforming than the rest. I gave in and before I lost faith in what we are as a country, I decided to take a look at the figures and the analysis done by Thomas Reuters. While I’m no statistician, I have learned basic analysis of figures through my own dabbling in the subject.

Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article, I am only considering the primary source, that is Reuters Foundation and any other secondary source it may have used while reaching its conclusion. Here is their website and you can open it up on a new tab to read along with me.

Reuters has used six indicators namely – healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. We all know the basic meaning of these terms but just so that I was on the same page as Reuters, I decided to have a look at the meanings given to these indicators. I have replicated them below.

1. Healthcare:

This includes general health access to optometrists, dentists, general doctors and specialist doctors who have expertise knowledge in disabilities, diseases or dealing with trauma.

Hmm… I thought more or less around the same lines but shouldn’t they have mentioned maternity care and gynaecologists before speaking of optometrists and dentists? Also, using the term “general health access” can mean different things in different countries. For example, in Europe, taking advantage state-financed healthcare is considered a right but in numerous other countries it ‘access to health care’ means whether each house and village is connected to a hospital, do they all have the required medical facilities, technology, and personnel. Most countries cannot afford to treat everyone for free but they do heavily subsidise healthcare for the needy. In such a scenario is one to say people or more specifically women in these countries do not have access to healthcare? The answer would vary from a European to an Asian or an African. Hence more specific term should have been employed.

Anyway, for your information, India is ranked fourth. Seems like women in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic are better off. We’ll just have to verify the data once we start discussing the methodology used by Reuters.

2. Discrimination:

This includes job discrimination; an inability to make a livelihood; discriminatory land, property or inheritance rights; a lack of access to education and a lack of access to adequate nutrition.

Again, acceptable definition. India ranks third but at least Saudi Arabia came before us at number 2! Ha, take that for allowing women to (finally) enter football stadiums and drive cars! Can they vote though?

3. Cultural Traditions:

This includes acid attacks; female genital mutilation; child marriage; forced marriage; stoning, physical abuse or mutilation as a form of punishment/retribution and female infanticide.

India is ranked first but I have a question. How are the above Indian cultural traditions? Or the traditions of any of the top countries mentioned (Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan)?

These are not “culture” and they are certainly not our “traditions”. This is very loose wordplay and I am starting to seriously question this assessment. I’m not saying that acid attacks, female genital mutilation, stoning, physical abuse etc are unimportant. On the contrary, I find them crucial to include in such an analysis.

But when I read “Cultural Traditions” my mind instantly thought of sex taboo, menstruation taboo, perhaps Bollywood’s item songs and other things that in modern India have become an unfortunate part of our life.

The above indicators are not traditions, and they are not a part of our culture. Anyone can go back and read the Vedas or the Upanishads or even historical accounts of India. Such acts have always been condemned in the past and more so in today’s world. I find it highly condescending to couple cultures of countries and civilisations around the world with such heinous acts. I would also point out that with such definition, the West doesn’t perform very well either.

And even after I consider the so-called ‘cultural traditions’ I truly can’t see how we ended up beating every other country in this category.

4. Sexual Violence:

This includes rape as a weapon of war; domestic rape; rape by a stranger; the lack of access to justice in rape cases; sexual harassment and coercion into sex as a form of corruption.

India tops the list again. What’s more surprising is that the USA is number three! Biggest democracies of the world, have not seen a war in the past three decades and provide a wider range of human as well as fundamental rights than any other country that made the top ten.

Either way, I’m not going to refute anything anymore as right now I’m still looking at the definitions and we yet have to examine how the data was collected, how inclusive the population sample was, and what factors were given a higher weight.

5. Non-sexual violence:

This includes conflict-related violence; domestic, physical and mental abuse.

I like this definition because it is specific, inclusive and yet generic enough to be applied across countries. I also appreciate the separate categorisation of sexual and non-sexual violence, it is a novel idea.

6. Human trafficking:

This includes domestic servitude; forced labour; bonded labour; forced marriage and sexual slavery.

To be honest I don’t think this should be a separate indicator because ‘forced marriage’ and ‘sexual slavery’ already fall into the definitions of ‘Cultural Traditions’ (see point 3) and ‘Sexual Violence’ (see point 4) respectfully.

Whether to include domestic servitude should be debated because if it is servitude it falls under forced labour or bonded labour (they are again included as separate points but honestly they become the same when practised). If it is not domestic servitude then it is domestic labour which makes many Indians, men and women alike, perpetrators of violence as employing domestic help is not only a practice in homes but we also have didis and bhaiyas in our schools and hospitals. That does not fall into ‘Human Trafficking’. Rather to call it so is an insult to them and a misuse of terminology as they respectfully work for their livelihood. They have a level of autonomy in their lives and they strive constantly to give their children a better life with their earnings. We do not term them like Western ‘cleaning services’ but the work done is the same. To label it as servitude could be misleading as it reminds of the colonial era brown Indians waving the fan for Lords and Nawabs sprawled on cushioned chairs.

I have stated the indicators and given you Reuters’ definitions of the same. I have also added the preliminary thoughts that came to my mind while reading. Now we move on to the methodology.

Reuters had contacted “548 experts focused on women’s issues including aid and development professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, non-government organisation workers, journalists, and social commentators.”

“We asked respondents to name the five most dangerous countries from the 193 United Nations member states. We then asked them to name the worst country in each of the following six categories.”

“For the first question, each respondent could list five countries. Each country got a score based on the number of times the country was provided as an answer. This score represented one quarter (25%) of the overall mark.

Questions two to seven were given the remaining three-quarters of the mark. This was based on the number of times a country was provided as the answer across each of the six categories (health, economic access, etc)

We then had the weighted scores to give a final score. This is the overall score we then used to rank countries.”

This now appears to be a poll survey and there is no data collected by Reuters itself about the factors. I have gone through the entire site but I don’t find any data or figures. So Reuters has relied on 548 experts to judge the countries. Respondents have given anonymity which is all right but at the very least figures about the sample population should be stated in their methodology i.e. which country do the participants belong to, what is their qualification, what are the sources they relied upon for their responses? Did they simply provide their opinions? How gender equal was the sample size? How culturally equal was the sample size? Did any of the participants have a personal experience with trauma or gender-based violence? How diverse is the group? Do they belong to the same intellectual circles or universities? (in that case, their opinions being very similar should not be surprising)

All of this and so much more can be expressed in terms of simple facts and pie charts, keeping the participants’ anonymity and privacy intact.

The first lesson I learned in statistics was that primary data(data collected by the researcher himself) when collected fairly is the strongest. But your sample must be truly representative and unbiased. More importantly, if the universe (group) is heterogeneous, sample method is not much use at all. I can say with confidence that unless we discover aliens, all countries judged make up the universe for humans. Thus any conclusion drawn would be subject to grave inaccuracies. Sampling and more so, polling, is not a foolproof method of statistical investigation. In such a scenario we are essentially left with “level of danger” markers like this:

They have not even given the figure based scores in tabular or graphical representations like other reports and indexes.

Reuters has been one the most relied upon news agencies because of their areas of coverage and fact-based articles. In fact, if as a student you ever went to MUNs or debates you would know that Reuters is one of the only news source delegates are allowed to verify information from.

Finding this analysis to be so rife with discrepancies is a shock for me.

I am not trashing this research or denying the atrocities faced by women in these countries and all over the world. I am just sharing my own reading and interpretations of the methodology and definitions used in the research.

When people say science can change the world, I tell them, “No, social science will change the world.” And that is because humanities look at humans as more than vessels of carbon and water; it recognises our social conditions, power structures, relations across cultures, genders and countries, our changing moralities in this transitioning world. Social science and its objectives not only strive to make the world a better place, but it also ensures we deserve to thrive.

However, it is a science and for that reason, it must follow scientific principles of analysis for accuracy and authenticity.

I have no doubt that Reuters had chosen intellectuals who are incredibly successful in their own vision and efforts to improve our world but I do not believe that beliefs of a few should define us in 2018. This is an opinion based poll where data to support its conclusions is absent.

This is a screenshot from the Reuters website. If it were not for the header ‘India’ on the picture I had absolutely no reason to imagine the woman was Indian. Headscarves are worn here for religious purposes and to protect oneself from pollution, it’s disheartening to see the former reason to be coupled with women’s oppression. Moreover, the schoolbag on her shoulder victimises our country. India has been needlessly portrayed as a terror land for women. Above all, I see that accuracy and ground-based facts have been compromised.

These are women in India today:

I want to end by saying that we have brilliant sportswomen, businesswomen, women scientists, journalists, educators, entrepreneurs, perhaps more than any other country on the top of this list. India gives women more rights, benefits, and opportunities than ever before. Women’s rights are not a trendy topic, here they are always on the agenda books of not only the government but also the citizens.

According to this survey, I would’ve been better off born in Somalia where my genitals would’ve been mutilated or in a theocratic state where at the age of 12 I would’ve been legally forced to marry my rapist and carry his child. I would beg to differ.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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