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 establisha universal set of rights for women. To date, Iran are one of just 5 member states not tohave signed the treaty. This has all lead women to be significantly undervalued by Iranian law. For example, womenare unable to leave the country without the permission of a husband or father. Women areso 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 criminalresponsibility at just 8 years 9 months. Law even dictates that if an Iranian man findshis wife cheating, he has the right to kill her and her lover.
Before the Taliban rule in 1996, Afghanistan was a reasonably progressive country. Itswomen first received the vote in 1919 and in 1923, their first constitution guaranteedequal rights for women. The Taliban stripped many of these rights and implemented a strictdress code for women. Since US intervention ended the Taliban rule in 2001, laws have returned to more equalground, but struggle to be enforced. According to Human Rights Watch, a third of women arestill married before 18. This often forces them out of education, leaving an averagefemale 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% ofthe 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 modernhistory. The conflict has perhaps been hardest on the women of the country, who have seensignificant rises in gender-based violence and secret prisons, where they suffer tortureand malnutrition. Nurse Rima Mulla Othman found herself in one of these prisons in 2015 for the crime oftending to the injured in Deir ez-Zor. Despite her protest, her three-month-old son remainedimprisoned 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 syrianwomen 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 areemployed.
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 givethe impression of a country on its way to gender equity, but it leaves out what Saudiwomen are still unable to do. Women in Saudi Arabia have long been treated legally as minors, whose male guardians areknown as ‘Mahrams’. These laws were loosened in 2018, but women still need permission froma father, husband or even son just to apply for passports, open a bank account, get marriedand even get certain surgeries. This legal inequality carries through to the court, where a woman’s testimony carrieshalf the weight of a mans. Women in Saudi Arabia don’t even have the freedom of wearinganything. Historically, women who don’t wear full abaya robes in public spaces facebeatings by the religious ‘Mutaween’ police.
Despite campaigns from the US and UN to improve gender equality in the country, Egypt remainsone of the hardest places in the world to live as a woman. Not only do Egyptian lawsnot mandate equal pay, but they also don’t have equal legal rights when it comes to marriageor divorce. But these issues may be least of their worries, according to the UN’s 2017 Gender EqualityStudy in the Middle East and North Africa. Of the 10,000 people surveyed, 50 percentof 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 banningthe procedure in 2007, they also found over 87% of women aged 15-49 had been subjectedto the act as of 2015.
Already one of the poorest Arab countries, Yemen has also been locked in a devastatingCivil War since 2015. The sense of lawlessness that now prevails in the country has significantlyhurt Yemeni women. In 2017, the United Nations Population Fund found that roughly 2. 6 millionwomen and girls in Yemen find themselves at risk of gender-based violence, and 52,000are 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 equalityin 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 Yemeniwomen control roughly 1% percent of the country’s finances. All this landed Yemen last placeof 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 theircircumstances, based on the scarcity of their education. They receive an average 3 yearsof education, and 81% of women aged 20-24 have no education at all. According to theONE 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 froma young age, hundreds of whom have been sold illegally to their husband. This adds to aculture 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 beforetheir 18th birthday. 28% will even marry before the legal age of 15, and Save the Childrenfound 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 ofthe world’s least developed countries. According to Peace Women, 61. 2% of Congolese women liveunderneath the poverty threshold, a whole 10% more than their male counterparts. As a result, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security calculated thatwomen in the country control just 9% of its finances. This financial disparity is alsoreflected in the significant differences in power Congolese women experience. The annualGeorgetown index also estimated that 64% of
women in the Congo experience intimate partnerviolence 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 PublicHealth. The study estimated that as of 2011, a staggering 12% of Congolese women have beenraped, 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 lawoffered free medical care to victims of acid attacks. Hundreds of these disfiguring attackstake place every year, the majority to women. At the hands of ex partners and disapproving families, women also face the illegal ‘honorkillings’ which take the lives of around 1000 women a year, but largely go unreportedor investigated. Often, these women were murdered simply for exercising their right to choosewho they marry. Despite this legal right, society offers women little choice, and 12% of Pakistani womenaged 18-49 were married as children, translating to almost 5 million women. Pakistan did seemto 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 Sudanspend an average of just 3 years in education. Subsequently, they control just 10% of thecountry’s finances. But life in Sudan is perhaps most hard not just for women, butfor married women. According to UNICEF, 34% of Sudanese women aged 20 to 24 were already married by thetime they were 18. Suspiciously, 34% is the same as the number of Sudanese women aged15-49 who believe a partner is justified in hitting his wife. This all gives an idea ofthe indoctrination the country’s women face. This is reflected in the 90% prevalence of Female Genital Cutting and laws which dictatethat womens consent doesn’t have to be recognised by her husband. Women who try to fight theirpartners off are regularly sentenced to death, as was the case for 19-year-old forced brideNoura Hussein, until her sentence was overturned in 2018.