Is the United States one of the ten most dangerous countries on Earth for women? More dangerous than even Iran, Iraq, North Korea? Well, a recent survey says yes. Many news outlets are reporting the finding uncritically. What’s going on? Let’s check a few facts. That’s coming up next on the Factual Feminist. The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Reuters news service, released a new survey on June 25th. It was based on responses from 548 experts on women’s issues who were asked to list the world’s “most dangerous countries for women;” dangerous in terms of lack of access to health care, vulnerability to human trafficking, discrimination, sexual violence, and backward customs. India came out as the worst country overall. The US came in tenth. In one subcategory – sexual violence – the US ranked third worst in the world. The survey results were featured in USA Today, CBS News, Newsweek, CNN, Fortune. None of the reporters thought to question Thomson Reuters about its methodology and none bothered to mention that the findings are ludicrously distorted. The United States
is far from perfect, but it’s not among the world’s most dangerous countries. Not even close. Women across the globe are plagued by acid attacks, child marriage, forced veiling, stonings, female infanticide, and female genital mutilation. Such practices are rare to non-existent in the United States. Last year, NPR created a map based on data from the World Policy Analysis Center showing which countries still allow
rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. The US was not one of them. A group called WomanStats maintains a comprehensive store of data on women across the world. Here’s a map that its scholars and researchers
created in 2014 contrasting women’s physical security in
different countries. Blue and beige countries are the safest; the dark red countries – much of Africa and Asia – are places where women lack physical safety. What about vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation? Well, here’s another map from WomanStats. Again, it’s the red and orange countries where women are in the most danger. The threat of harm is a human constant and there is a lot of room for improvement in the United States, but any reasonable measure, American women are among the safest, freest, healthiest, best educated, and opportunity-rich women in the world. Why pretend otherwise? The survey’s flaws aren’t limited to its inclusion of the United States. It ranked India as the single most dangerous country in the world for women. India has a long way to go where women are concerned and it has witnessed several widely publicized, horrific crimes against women. But its record is far better than dozens of countries – Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Congo, Iraq, Pakistan…the list goes on. One reason India fared so badly is that the experts ranked it as the worst country for sex trafficking. But where is the evidence of that? In 2017, the State Department published a comprehensive analysis of human trafficking. Countries were placed in four tiers; the first tier being the best and the fourth the worst. India was in the second tier. Similarly, Reuters ranked India the single worst for “cultural traditions,” such as female genital mutilation. Well FGM is relatively rare in India. India wasn’t even mentioned in a
World Health Organization report on countries where the practice is widespread. If you ask Thomson Reuters for information about its experts and its methodology, you get back a form letter explaining that the poll is totally based on perceptions, not data. Whose perceptions? They won’t say. In the letter, they explain that “we gave an assurance to the experts that their answers would be confidential to allow total honesty.” That’s such a strange reply. Are they suggesting that their experts might misrepresent the truth if they spoke on the record? And since when do professionals demand anonymity when giving an expert opinion? Rank ordering countries is always tricky
and never fully scientific. But the WomanStats, the State Department, the World Health Organization reports… Those are based on publicly available data. Their methods are transparent and open to review and criticism. The same cannot be said of the Thomson Reuters poll. Yet the foundation rolled out the survey as if it were serious social science. And they say that the poll was developed in collaboration with a global team of data scientists. It speaks of representative samples, response rates, weighted scores. And most American reporters were taken in. Reuters is one of the most esteemed and venerable names in journalism, but this survey is a travesty that lacks transparency and credibility and it conveys misinformation, which only encourages cynicism about journalism and fuels charges of fake news. As for women’s safety in the US and India and elsewhere – that’s a serious issue, not a parlor game. Improvements will require reliable research, solid data, and careful evaluation of underlying causes. Understandably, many in India have pushed back against these findings. One prominent journalist called it “statistical rubbish.” Monique Villa, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters foundation, appeared on Indian television to defend the value of her perception poll. She was very defensive and repeatedly insisted that it was “a snapshot of a situation in the world.” No, it’s not. The Thomson Reuters survey is a snapshot of a CEO and a foundation
throwing away their credibility. If you found this video valuable, please show your support by subscribing to the series and I invite you to listen to my new weekly podcast with Danielle Crittenden – The Femsplainers – and thank you for watching the Factual Feminist.