The Thomson Reuters’ Foundation, on June 25, published the results of a survey which ranked India as the most dangerous place for women in the world. This surprise inclusion of the country along with war-ravaged states like Afghanistan and Syria was met with a multitude of reactions when news reached the Indian citizenry. It gained traction online by being shared widely and discussed extensively by netizens, many of whom readily accepted the results of the survey without question.
However, when such sweeping statements are made, It becomes important to examine the veracity of the evidence and the effectiveness of the methodology used by experts to arrive at such conclusions.
At first glance, what’s easy to ascertain is that this ranking is not based on any empirical evidence or fact. It is an amalgamation of the opinions of over ‘550 experts’ on women’s issues from different nations. While giving these ‘experts’ anonymity is the organization’s choice, what blemishes the credibility of the ranking is it’s refusal to shed light on some basic information on these respondents. We do not know what the credentials of these experts were, whether they were screened for bias, the sources used by them, whether any of the participants had personal experiences of trauma or gender-based violence and more. Such information could easily have been provided by compiling it into tables or charts.
Another issue is that opinion polls tend to reflect inherent biases of the respondents who participated in it. Which means that if the respondents are from the same university or academic circles, then they may share the same perceptions about certain issues which may unfairly skew the results.
Also, the methodology which led to a country like India being put ahead of countries ravaged by militancy, terrorism and civil wars is to be examined thoroughly. There are more than 10 active war zones in the world where women are routinely subjected to rape and murder. While rape remains a huge problem in need of immediate attention, the unimaginable scale of violence against women in some parts of the world cannot be compared with the atrocities faced by women in India.
In the wake of this debacle, the question that arises is why so many of us were quick to accept such an implausible result by the survey.
One reason could be confirmation bias.
The pervasive reach of mass media in India has lately been successful in drawing attention to the crimes against women. The common citizen is aware and rightly worried about the atrocities women face here. Unfortunately, what the media fails to highlight is the progress made by the government and the civil society in improving the situation. This proportionate coverage of crimes and the disproportionate coverage of their resolution has maligned the perception of the common man into believing the ground reality to be worse than it is.
So when an organization publishes a report which aligns with their perception of reality, they believe it without question.
The implications of such a fallacious report gaining traction online are manifold. The biggest consequence would be its demoralizing effect on the members of civil society, polity and the bureaucracy who have been fighting the good fight and improving conditions for women in the country. It also harms the soft power of India around the globe.
When such results are accepted unquestioned by the masses, it contributes to an air of despair and hopelessness, which leads to people believing that India is ‘beyond saving’ and that all efforts to tackle this problem are worthless. Such an attitude could exacerbate the situation at hand and soon we may reach a point where rapes and atrocities fail to shock us. After all, what can one expect, isn’t India ‘the most dangerous country for women in the world?’
At the individual level, an effort to inculcate a healthy habit of scepticism is the need of the hour. When we come across an outlandish claim which seems far-fetched to us, there probably is a good reason for it. The best course of action in such a situation would be to examine the evidence used to support it and If the assertion is strongly backed by credible evidence, it should be accepted else it should be dismissed without a second thought.
While we should be wary of assertions like the one made by the Thomson Reuters’ Foundation, the fact is that this survey result has accorded us another opportunity to reflect on the plight of women in our country. It also reminds us of the long road ahead of us before India truly achieves gender equality and safety for women.