India is the most dangerous country in the world for women, according to a survey of experts released Tuesday by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The results come amid a worsening climate of sexual and communal violence in India, including the January rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl. The rate of sexual assault continues to rise across the country.
“While our [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] tiptoes around his garden making yoga videos, India leads Afghanistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia in rape and violence against women!” tweeted India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday, referring to a fitness video that Modi posted in the spring. “What a shame for our country!” he added.
To produce the list, the Thomson Reuters Foundation contacted 548 experts focused on women’s issues, including development workers, journalists, academics, and health providers. The experts were asked to name the countries that in their view were the most dangerous women, according to six separate categories. On three of the different measures—sexualized violence, human trafficking, and “culture and religion”-based violence—India won the dubious honor of coming in first.
Prime Minister Modi, who leads the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a Hindu nationalist who has come under criticism for condoning violence against Muslims and failing to do enough to address rising rates of sexual assault. It took Modi days to condemn the murder of the 8-year-old girl, and a high-ranking leader of a regional BJP chapter joined with thousands of others in a protest march to defend her killers. The number of reported rapes has gone up significantly in India over recent years, and the national and international press have covered a number of high-profile violent assaults.
Increasing hostility to democratic and pluralistic values has made life more dangerous for women in India, and there are also other factors at play. According to the experts polled by the foundation, Indian women are also frequently subject to forced marriage and labor, as well as acid attacks, punishment through stoning, and female infanticide.
In a statement, India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development questioned the methodology of the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey. “The ranking is based on a perception poll based on responses to simply six questions. The results are not derived from any kind of data and are solely based on inherently subjective opinions.”
Afghanistan and Syria came in second and third place respectively, both countries that have long been embroiled in civil and regional wars. Afghan women have the worst access to health care and face the most discrimination, experts told the foundation. Syrian women came second in terms of experiencing non-sexual harm, which includes conflict-related violence as well as physical and emotional abuse.
Only one country from the global North appeared on the top ten list: the United States, which seemingly rose through the ranks as result of the ongoing #MeToo movement.
“The United States shot up in the rankings after tying joint third with Syria when respondents were asked which was the most dangerous country for women in terms of sexual violence including rape, sexual harassment, coercion into sex and the lack of access to justice in rape cases,” explained the foundation on its website. The U.S. was also ranked sixth in terms of non-sexual violence against women, including physical and emotional abuse.