Gender inequality is a multifaceted issue that continues to be interwoven into societies all across the globe. In the world’s most restrictive nations, women struggle to access even the most basic human rights.
From healthcare to marital safety to economic independence, these are the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman in 2020.
Somali women face a variety of unique challenges, in addition to the limitations that were mentioned throughout this article. For this desert nation in the Horn of Africa, even access to water is a gender-driven issue.
In a recent report by Human Rights Watch, Somalia was found to have the highest concentration of female genital mutilation in the world. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for girls to go through the procedure before they turn five years old. In addition to inflicting pain and trauma, female circumcision is often carried out in nonmedical conditions. This can lead to life-long health problems – or even death – for the victims. Although this practice is technically illegal, more than 80% of the Somali female population has undergone some form of genital mutilation.
Widespread displacement caused by rebel conflict is another factor that can create an especially dangerous environment for Somali women, as well as female travelers. Sexual violence by armed soldiers and civilians is highly prevalent, and kidnappings are also common occurrences across the country.
Kidnappings are a day-to-day risk for residents of Somalia. Extreme poverty, civil strife, and political dissent are often cited as reasons why trafficking is so rampant throughout the peninsula. Somalia’s government holds little actionable power over its citizens, making crime impossible to control. Armed militia soldiers are known to kidnap aid workers and tourists for ransom, impacting food insecure and underprivileged Somali communities.
Rebel groups, such as the Shabab Islamist militant organization, are responsible for preventing foriegn aid from reaching the citizens, which has prolonged an ongoing famine crisis over the past few decades.
Diplomatic presence is essentially nonexistent in Somalia for travelers from most of the Western world. As a result, traveling women are particularly at risk of kidnapping, sexual assault, and violent attacks either committed by civilians or organized militants.
Clan warfare, paired with a paper-thin government structure and lack of essential resources, makes it even more difficult for women in Somalia to carry out basic daily tasks. Securing water and food, for example, becomes a deadly journey when armed terrorists and warlords can be presumed to be anywhere at any time. Plus, poor healthcare and life expectancy put many women in the position of caring for their families’ lives inside and outside of the home.
With a network of weak infrastructure and a fragile healthcare system, living as a woman can become increasingly dangerous every year. Complications with childbirth, FGM, and domestic violence make it dangerous for a woman to simply exist freely in Somalia.
A recent study conducted by the Brazilian Forum of Public Security found that an average of four girls under the age of 13 are raped every hour. Every two minutes, violence against women is reported to the police. Children and women are frequently victimized by economic and political instability via poor healthcare standards, weak infrastructure, and virtually no protection of basic rights.
The prevalence of femicide, or the murder of women explicitly because of gender prejudice, has been increasing across Brazil in recent years – even though the national homicide rate has decreased as a whole. In the majority of these cases, the assailant was the victim’s current or former partner. In fact, a woman is killed by her husband every few hours in Brazil.
Part of the reason why domestic violence is such an important issue in Brazil is the general perception that abuse victims should be responsible for acting against their assailants. Recent legislation has given Brazilian women a bit more freedom and power to stand up to their abusers. However, it’s still difficult to pursue justice in a system that places all of the burdens on the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Since domestic crimes are often neglected or overlooked by police, women often find themselves in danger within the walls of their own homes. Legal representation for women is also difficult to secure, and many women are left without the ability to properly defend themselves or prosecute their abusers.
Largely motivated by hate or disputes over property, femicide is another violent crime that occurs at an extremely high rate in Brazil. This drove a specific Feminicie Law to be signed into effect by President Dilma Rousseff in 2015. However, femicide is still highly prevalent and crimes are largely unreported and underproduced.
The Zika Virus created a specific crisis for Brazilian women in 2016. Abortion is illegal nationwide, with the exception of cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. This posed a significant risk for pregnant women during the outbreak since the virus is known to cause fetal defects and damage to brain development in-utero. Lack of access to safe medical abortions has driven young girls to pursue dangerous illicit procedures, risking a three-year prison sentence – or death as a result of health complications.
Among children who had contracted the virus, 14% were born with severe developmental problems. Microcephaly is one of the most common complications caused by Zika virus transmission. This condition can lead to impaired cognitive and language skills, as well as visual and aural impairment.
Since Brazil provides poor assistance for those with all levels of disabilities, children with physical or psychological impairments are among the nation’s most marginalized demographics. Children with noticeable defects risk ostracisation in many communities and access to essential services is even more difficult to obtain than it is for able-bodied citizens.
Even the most high-profile women in the country are not exempt from gender-based violence. In 2018, councilwoman Marielle Franco was shot by two civilian assailants in Rio de Janeiro. Franco was a human rights activist and social worker who built a career in Brazil’s most disenfranchised slums. She was just one victim of an ongoing increase in gun-based violence, as most of these violent crimes are continuing to go unpunished.
Today, the country’s far-right leadership continues to put women and children in danger through lax policies that fail to protect women and validate crimes committed against them. Brazil is a growing economic power with a high level of international influence, but the current government clearly reflects the Bolsonaro administration’s misogynistic and discriminatory ideologies.
From terrorist rule to international military occupation, Afghanistan has been in a constant state of volatility since the Taliban obtained control in 1996. As an extremist religious group, the Taliban created a fundamentalist Islamic government structure that essentially reduced the role of women to the property of their male relatives and counterparts.
The Taliban’s grip was loosened following U.S. intervention in 2001, but at the cost of turning the country into an ongoing warzone. This created even more instability for women, who were unable to hold property or earn any sort of income without express permission from their husband or closest male kin.
Today, women in Afghanistan are still dramatically affected by lawlessness or, in more extreme cases, the application of radical Islamic principles. They are still often barred from filing for divorce, reporting abuse, voting, or otherwise expressing their individual rights. In fact, women can be punished by law if they flee their husbands – even in cases of assault or rape.
The application of religious law means has sent thousands of Afghan women to prison for committing similar subjective “moral crimes” such as reporting abuse, divorce, or refusing to have children.
Obstruction of women’s rights is a multi-tiered system in Afghanistan, ranging from household violence to voter suppression and libel via social media. While more women are holding positions of power in the Afghan government, they’re still fighting to receive even the most basic level of respect and recognition in this patriarchal society.
Forced marriages are incredibly prominent across the nation, affecting more than half of all unions across the nation of 35 million. This is fueled by the high frequency of child marriages, with at least 50% of underage brides being 16 years old or younger. This impacts girls’ access to education, inhibiting their ability to become self-sufficient by any means.
As a result of these limitations, women in Afghanistan are at the mercy of the men in their lives – who are able to determine their livelihoods at the drop of a hat. Difficulty securing income, limited resources, and the absence of children’s services make it nearly impossible for single mothers to survive in Afghan society.
Due to the increasing level of poverty and instability in the region, children whose mothers have been victimized by the current regime start life at a steep disadvantage. Across the country, most families are wholly dependent on the income and decision-making power on one parent. This leaves entire families vulnerable to a cyclical, misogynistic system that has displaced and endangered millions.
The pressure and mistreatment placed upon women is a driving force of the country’s high levels of suicide amongst Afghsnistand’s female population. With no representation, no support, and often no way out of the lives they’ve been forced to live – many Afghan women see death as the only exit strategy.
Afghanistan was previously a progressive cultural epicenter prior to the country’s occupation in 1979. Then, after the Taliban invaded in the 1990s, women were almost completely stripped of their rights- from healthcare to education to free travel. Over the subsequent decades, terrorist invasion and foreign intervention have turned the country into a perilous hellscape – particularly for women and girls.
Known for its draconian approach to law and justice, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a world leader in systemic gender inequality.
Men are the front runners of Saudi society. Their word is even more powerful in court, whereas women only have a fraction of the integrity of a man in the eyes of the law. Although women now have the ability to legally apply for a passport without male guardianship, cultural and societal expectations continue to place their futures in the hands of the men in their lives.
Saudi Arabia is home to many of the world’s wealthiest individuals, but economic turmoil makes life especially problematic for women in the Kingdom. Women may require the permission of a male guardian (i.e. husband, father, brother) to make major life decisions, such as applying for a job or traveling. This severely impairs the ability for women to sustain their independence, putting them at the mercy of the men in their lives – emotionally and financially.
Women in Saudi Arabia are also often required to forfeit their agency when it comes to marital life. Domestic abuse goes largely unpunished, and men have more flexibility to file for divorce with or without cause. Since women are also seen as a fraction of a man, they have little power when it comes to prosecuting their abusers.
Child marriages are technically illegal, but it’s still a common issue for girls and women of all socioeconomic levels. Since women are seen as an economic burden on their relatives, many families are pressured to arrange marriages for their daughters as quickly as possible.
Although women were recently granted the legal right to drive in Saudi Arabia, they still regularly experience backlash for partaking in what the West would consider basic human rights. The government’s reliance on radical Islamic tenets leaves many crimes and offenses open to interpretation, allowing male guardianship laws to effectively determine any female’s future.
While Saudi Arabia does use Islamic law as the primary source material for its government structure, there is no established family law in the Kingdom. That means that women are rarely able to divorce on their own terms or maintain custody of their children following separation. Plus, since women are not legally allowed to divorce their husbands, women are required to prove to the court that their husband initiated the divorce if they want to make the separation of fiction.
As an additional restriction, women are not legally allowed to be their child’s primary guardian in the event of a divorce. Although they may be able to be the child’s primary caretaker under certain circumstances, girls are often required to fall under their father’s custody at age 7, while boys are transferred at age 9.
Freedom to travel, access to education, and the right to employment are all opportunities that are not afforded to half of Saudi Arabia’s population.
Year after year, Yemen is consistently ranked last in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index. This metric reflects the scale of the deeply rooted inequality that is enforced by a theocratic government and rigid societal standards. As one of the world’s most conservative patriarchal societies, there are some significant developmental issues that only affect women.
Yemen’s religiously led government structure leads to a societal framework that upholds strict gender norms and cultural expectations that place multiple limitations on women. For many Yemenis, mistreatment against women starts at home. Psychological abuse, forced marriage, spousal abuse, sexual harassment, forced pregnancy, rape, and polygamy frequently imposed upon Yemini women and girls by family members, as well as the laws that support these cultural norms.
Additionally, ongoing civil strife and conflict with Saudi Arabia have turned the majority of the country into a volatile warzone. Airstrikes are prevalent throughout northern and southern Yemen, and armed groups create a hostile environment regardless of where you might stand culturally or politically.
In fact, local media and government entities often support instances of gender-based violence that uphold certain tenets of Islamic extremism. Among these beliefs include the cultural and legal acceptance of FGM, forced marriage, and domestic abuse.
Laws are heavily influenced by gender bias, even going so far as to establish the value of a woman’s life as half that of a man’s. Vague language and copious loopholes permeate Yemeni legislation, putting females at risk from the time they’re born.
Reproductive and sexual rights are extremely limited in the Yemeni Republic, and women are unable to make the most basic decisions for their own bodily autonomy. Male verification is required for nearly everything a woman in Yemen would need to establish independence, such as access to medical care and education.
Threats in Yemen are indiscriminate, and locals face the possibility of peril every day. But the high level of cultural and economic limitations placed on women, in addition to the ongoing humanitarian crisis that’s spreading through the area, makes it an especially dangerous place for females.
Traveling as a woman is inherently dangerous, especially in areas where women struggle to live permanently with the same rights and liberties as their male counterparts. From violence to economic instability, women are often the targets of the world’s most determinantal problems. Antiquated cultural ideologies and lack of government support leave the most vulnerable members of society at a high level of risk.
If you’re planning to take a trip or relocate anytime soon, consider these factors when choosing between your destination options. Women, particularly, should be aware of the dangers that they can find in certain parts of the world.