Since the revolution of 1979, Iran has significantly
reverted political trends towards gender equality.
In 1981, the United Nations brought into effect
the CEDAW treaty, which aimed to establish
a universal set of rights for women. To date,
Iran are one of just 5 member states not to
have signed the treaty.
This has all lead women to be significantly
undervalued by Iranian law. For example, women
are unable to leave the country without the
permission of a husband or father. Women are
so undervalued in court that their testimonies
are often given half the weight of a mans,
and not accepted at all for certain crimes.
Despite this, new penal code introduced in
2012 established the female age of criminal
responsibility at just 8 years 9 months. Law
even dictates that if an Iranian man finds
his wife cheating, he has the right to kill
her and her lover.
Before the Taliban rule in 1996, Afghanistan
was a reasonably progressive country. Its
women first received the vote in 1919 and
in 1923, their first constitution guaranteed
equal rights for women. The Taliban stripped
many of these rights and implemented a strict
dress code for women.
Since US intervention ended the Taliban rule
in 2001, laws have returned to more equal
ground, but struggle to be enforced. According
to Human Rights Watch, a third of women are
still married before 18. This often forces
them out of education, leaving an average
female education of just 4 years, where 63%
of women are illiterate.
This leads to just 16% of Afghan women being
employed, giving them control of just 4% of
the country’s finances. All this creates
a culture where men have more value than women,
in which 60% of women in Afghanistan will
experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
Since 2011, civil war has sent Syria into
one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern
history. The conflict has perhaps been hardest
on the women of the country, who have seen
significant rises in gender-based violence
and secret prisons, where they suffer torture
Nurse Rima Mulla Othman found herself in one
of these prisons in 2015 for the crime of
tending to the injured in Deir ez-Zor. Despite
her protest, her three-month-old son remained
imprisoned with her until their release in
2017. The boy’s first word was ‘prison’,
and his mother was so malnourished upon release
he was taken to an orphanage until she recovered.
According to the Georgetown Institute for
Women, Peace and Security, a quarter of syrian
women experience violence by an intimate partner
and only 17% regard their community as safe.
However, most are in no position to do anything
about it, as just 12% of Syrian women are
7. Saudi Arabia
In 2015, Saudi Arabia took a famous step forward
by allowing women to vote for the first time.
Two years later, they went on to legalise
women getting driving licences. This may give
the impression of a country on its way to
gender equity, but it leaves out what Saudi
women are still unable to do.
Women in Saudi Arabia have long been treated
legally as minors, whose male guardians are
known as ‘Mahrams’. These laws were loosened
in 2018, but women still need permission from
a father, husband or even son just to apply
for passports, open a bank account, get married
and even get certain surgeries.
This legal inequality carries through to the
court, where a woman’s testimony carries
half the weight of a mans. Women in Saudi
Arabia don’t even have the freedom of wearing
anything. Historically, women who don’t
wear full abaya robes in public spaces face
beatings by the religious ‘Mutaween’ police.
Despite campaigns from the US and UN to improve
gender equality in the country, Egypt remains
one of the hardest places in the world to
live as a woman. Not only do Egyptian laws
not mandate equal pay, but they also don’t
have equal legal rights when it comes to marriage
But these issues may be least of their worries,
according to the UN’s 2017 Gender Equality
Study in the Middle East and North Africa.
Of the 10,000 people surveyed, 50 percent
of men believed that women deserve to be beaten
sometimes, and a third of women even agreed.
The country is also one of the leaders in
the horrific practice of Female Genital Cutting.
Unicef found that over 70% of Egyptian men
believe it should continue, and despite banning
the procedure in 2007, they also found over
87% of women aged 15-49 had been subjected
to the act as of 2015.
Already one of the poorest Arab countries,
Yemen has also been locked in a devastating
Civil War since 2015. The sense of lawlessness
that now prevails in the country has significantly
hurt Yemeni women. In 2017, the United Nations
Population Fund found that roughly 2.6 million
women and girls in Yemen find themselves at
risk of gender-based violence, and 52,000
are at risk of sexual violence.
Even before, the country hadn’t been a haven
for women. Yemen has no women in parliament,
and has never had a female head of state.
Thus, women aren’t legally mandated to equality
in terms of pay, divorce and custody rights,
and need a man’s permission to marry.
As a result, the Georgetown Institute for
Women, Peace and Security found that Yemeni
women control roughly 1% percent of the country’s
finances. All this landed Yemen last place
of 144 countries on the 2017 edition of the
annual Global Gender Gap Report.
Women in Niger are afforded scarcely few rights,
but have little opportunity to improve their
circumstances, based on the scarcity of their
education. They receive an average 3 years
of education, and 81% of women aged 20-24
have no education at all. According to the
ONE campaign, this leaves 83% of women aged
15 to 24 illiterate in the country.
Instead of receiving education, girls in Niger
are frequently given the role of wife from
a young age, hundreds of whom have been sold
illegally to their husband. This adds to a
culture which gives Niger the highest rate
of child marriage in the world.
According to a 2017 UNICEF study, 3 out of
every 4 Niger women will be married before
their 18th birthday. 28% will even marry before
the legal age of 15, and Save the Children
found that one in five adolescent women in
Niger will give birth each year.
3. Democratic Republic of Congo
Despite being rich in natural resources, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of
the world's least developed countries. According
to Peace Women, 61.2% of Congolese women live
underneath the poverty threshold, a whole
10% more than their male counterparts.
As a result, the Georgetown Institute for
Women, Peace and Security calculated that
women in the country control just 9% of its
finances. This financial disparity is also
reflected in the significant differences in
power Congolese women experience. The annual
Georgetown index also estimated that 64% of
women in the Congo experience intimate partner
violence in their lifetime.
The country was also described by one UN representative
in 2010 as the ‘rape capital of the world’.
This epidemic was investigated by a study
published in the American Journal of Public
Health. The study estimated that as of 2011,
a staggering 12% of Congolese women have been
raped, equating to about 48 women per hour.
The country of Pakistan doesn’t have any
laws banning discrimination when hiring women,
nor does it mandate that they recieve equal
pay. It was only in 2017 that Pakistani law
offered free medical care to victims of acid
attacks. Hundreds of these disfiguring attacks
take place every year, the majority to women.
At the hands of ex partners and disapproving
families, women also face the illegal ‘honor
killings’ which take the lives of around
1000 women a year, but largely go unreported
or investigated. Often, these women were murdered
simply for exercising their right to choose
who they marry.
Despite this legal right, society offers women
little choice, and 12% of Pakistani women
aged 18-49 were married as children, translating
to almost 5 million women. Pakistan did seem
to be taking progressive steps when Benazir
Bhutto was elected Prime Minister in 1988,
but she too was assassinated in 2007 after
a fall from power.
The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace
and Security calculate that women in Sudan
spend an average of just 3 years in education.
Subsequently, they control just 10% of the
country’s finances. But life in Sudan is
perhaps most hard not just for women, but
for married women.
According to UNICEF, 34% of Sudanese women
aged 20 to 24 were already married by the
time they were 18. Suspiciously, 34% is the
same as the number of Sudanese women aged
15-49 who believe a partner is justified in
hitting his wife. This all gives an idea of
the indoctrination the country’s women face.
This is reflected in the 90% prevalence of
Female Genital Cutting and laws which dictate
that womens consent doesn’t have to be recognised
by her husband. Women who try to fight their
partners off are regularly sentenced to death,
as was the case for 19-year-old forced bride
Noura Hussein, until her sentence was overturned
Whilst various countries are atleast trying to make strides towards gender equality, in these countries being a woman is nothing short of awful.
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