Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No Y Chromosome? Move to Canada!

I just recently came across an article regarding a study by Thomson Reuters which measured various factors of womens' qualities of life, and rated various countries on which are the best nations to be a woman.  I should note that this is coming off the heels of the G20 summit, so the only countries which are actually in the study are in those 20 member nations...  so really, it's a measure of the nations within that relatively small subset.  Pretty much all of Africa, save, for South Africa is not represented, for instance.  Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the only Middle Eastern nations represented in any way.  The other thing is that it mixes the weighting of opinion-based polling of respondents with actual statistics.  As such, we do have to take the results with a grain of salt.

The not-even-slightly-surprising result is that the United States ranks 6th out of that list of 20 countries.  This is not entirely surprising given that it's a country where religious bullcrap is making things like women's reproductive rights a contentious issue.  We have laws in some states that force raped women to be raped a second time by a machine in order to have an abortion if they get pregnant.  Almost all the nations have an apparent income gap between men and women, but the U.S. also has a pretty bad one.

However, there are a few surprising results --
Canada actually ranks at the top of the list, but I imagine the top 3 or 4 positions were pretty close.  The factors that were taken into account, according to the article, include things like --
1. Quality of health
2. Freedom from violence
3. Political participation
4. Workplace opportunities
5. Access to resources (i.e. education, property rights)
6. Freedom from trafficking and slavery
So given that Canada is pretty liberal about things like abortion and contraception, as well as having quality universal health care, it's pretty clear that that was a tipping point for Canada.  Other European nations have it as well, so it's no surprise that European nations (well, and Australia) rounded out the rest of the top 5.  Access to education is probably a big one as well, because Canada is one of the few developed nations where the rate of college graduation is actually significantly* higher for women than for men.

What kind of surprised me was which country was at the bottom of the list -- as in rated as the worst country of all the 20 major economically/politically powerful nations in which to be a woman...  Drum roll...
It's India.

Sure, it was pretty much a given that India was going to be near the bottom.  But dead last was something I didn't quite expect.  Especially considering the nations that were above it.  At the face of it, it seems ridiculous that a country like Saudi Arabia, where women are sentenced to be whipped and beaten for the crime of driving a car, or sentenced to death for buying food without a male relative present, or charged with a crime if they are victims of sexual assault.  Hell, how could Saudi Arabia be ranked above any country within the list?  India definitely has plenty of opportunities for women to receive quality education (technically, so does Saudi Arabia, and in both cases, this is relatively recent compared to countries like the U.S.), it's not a country where women are legally the owned property of their husbands, women in political power have not been that rare, and so on.  The severe lack of such resources and accessibility certainly explains why Mexico falls at the bottom of the list as well, though the points you can make about quality of life in Mexico wouldn't necessarily apply only to women.  Still, the study was still dealing in absolute measures of quality of life for women, and not specifically inequality.  Similarly, while South Africa may technically have plenty of female MPs, it falls near the bottom for its obscene rape statistics.

Then you look at the factors that really killed it for India and put them at the bottom, and it starts to add up a little.  The big one seems to be the high rates of maternal mortality.  This is not just the mothers who get killed for giving birth to female children, but also just plain mothers dying in childbirth or shortly thereafter.  Although India has health care available, the quality thereof is mixed because nobody has the knowledge or the capacity to differentiate between real medical practitioners and outright fraudulent quacks (and this is true even in the urban parts of India).  And the government itself does not really police this sort of thing because well, they don't know any better themselves.  Also, contrary to what a lot of people think about Hinduism as opposed to Islam, so-called "honor killings" are still all over the place, especially in parts of the country where caste rigors are part of the norm.  This is in addition to the essentially unregulated sex trade and so on that fills the shadier parts of the land.

So given all that, it kind of adds up a bit that India might be a little worse for women than Saudi Arabia.  It's one of those cases where it's generally better on paper, but there are issues when things come to practice.  In a study like this, people are generally going to look at the actuality rather than the intention, and given the massive population of India, it seems to follow that there is plenty going on that one doesn't immediately think about.  In all fairness, there is plenty of political activity that makes people feel a lot more optimistic for future developments, but again, implementation matters.  That, I think, is why I'm not so optimistic.  Indian government officials, save for a few key exceptions, have a history of successfully implementing brilliant ideas in a profoundly useless way...  or incredibly stupid ideas in a large scale...  and when they manage to do something useful, nobody ever seems to know about it -- especially not those who might benefit from it.

Now, I don't mean to blow it entirely out of proportion, since we're only talking about last place out of a selection of only 20 countries.  Undeveloped nations are guaranteed to have it worse for everyone.  Countries we normally associate with fundamentalism like Afghanistan are not represented here, nor are countries wracked with a variety of social, political, and agricultural issues like Somalia. Nonetheless, being dead last among nations which are developed enough to be among the top 20 powers in the world is still something because it points out exactly where India, for lack of a better word, still sucks.

* "Significantly" here doesn't mean it's an amazingly huge difference so much as it's well beyond the range of statistical error, thus making it a statistically significant result.