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Personal safety is a basic human right that no one should have to live without.
Unfortunately, at least 50% of the world’s population faces threats to their personal safety every day. Women of all ages and backgrounds are constantly dealing with unsafe situations, whether when walking home alone, riding in taxis, or simply existing in public places.
This is intolerable, and here at SafetyDetectives, we believe it needs to change. The world should be a safe place for everyone – regardless of their gender.
To help raise awareness and shed light on this issue, we decided to research countries around the world to see which are the safest and most dangerous for women, in terms of the number of crimes committed against them and the laws protecting them. We sought to understand what exactly it is that makes some places safer than others, and what we can learn from them.
This process proved to be incredibly complex, as we had to rely on official data that may or may not accurately reflect reality. The results of our research depended on each country’s level of transparency about the number of crimes against women, as well as women’s ability and willingness to report these crimes in the first place.
Below, we’ll explain our findings and explore the ways that governments, organizations, and individuals can work to increase and ensure women’s safety.
A Culture of Violence Against Women
Historically, most societies around the world have not prioritized women’s safety or been particularly kind to women in general. In many ways this is improving, and we’ve come a long way – but there’s also still a long way to go.
Many scholars believe this phenomenon is deeply ingrained in various cultures. Some research suggests that patriarchal societies became the norm around 12,000 years ago, when humans started practicing large-scale agriculture and settling down. This crucial shift in lifestyle also caused a fundamental shift in power, tilting the scales in men’s favor.
This societal change arguably planted the seeds for gender-based inequality, discrimination, and violence – and we’re still reaping the results. From seemingly insignificant acts of disrespect to life-threatening crimes, there’s evidence everywhere of a collective tendency toward violence against women.
Take, for example, the male gaze: a term that refers to how women are commonly portrayed in the media through the lens of a heterosexual male perspective. The male gaze turns women into sexual objects that exist primarily to please men. This implicitly normalizes the control and abuse of women by dehumanizing them.
There are plenty of prominent examples of the male gaze in pop culture – from the sexualization of female video game characters to misogynistic ads. And while the objectification and dehumanization of women might sound abstract, these processes have real and tangible consequences.
Think of the horrific stories that surface every so often about innocent women being harmed or killed. They temporarily take hold of the public consciousness because they’re specific and shocking. But only a tiny percentage of the victims of these kinds of crimes make it into the news. What about the rest of them?
Tragedy Sparks Outrage and Action
In March 2021, one story took on symbolic significance: the case of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was abducted and murdered by a police officer while walking home at night in London.
This story drew international attention – not because it’s an incredibly rare or unbelievable occurrence, but because it validated the constant fear that many, if not all, women face when they’re out alone anywhere in the world.
The public response to this tragedy was overwhelming and unique. Women from all cultural contexts and socioeconomic backgrounds spoke up to share their own experiences. They connected over their shared fears and coping strategies, bringing the global lack of women’s safety into the spotlight.
One woman shared a screenshot of a simple message reading “text me when you get home,” which immediately went viral. Many women who saw that post, myself included, instantly remembered all the times that they’d sent it to or received it from their friends.
We always need to ensure that our female friends make it home, because there’s always a possibility that they’ll be threatened in some way before they get there. The prevalence of street harassment is a reality that most women have learned to accept.
But Sarah Everard’s death and the conversation it sparked reminded all of us that we shouldn’t have to accept this reality. We shouldn’t take this kind of fear for granted or allow this violence to continue. We should speak up and do whatever we can to protect each other.
The first step toward solving any problem is understanding its roots and manifestations. That’s why we set out to conduct this research – in the hope that studying and writing about the issue could help in some small way to rectify the injustice of violence against women.
Researching Women’s Safety Around the World
In order to create a comprehensive ranking of countries according to women’s safety, we split our research into two different categories: crimes and laws.
Although our initial goal was to determine which countries are the safest and most dangerous for women, our research ended up taking a different turn. It’s extremely difficult to quantify something as complex as safety – especially as it applies to an enormous number of people living in very different cultural, political, and economic circumstances.
That said, we do believe that our rankings reflect valuable information about the countries studied – and not necessarily in the most obvious way.
For example, countries with the most reported crimes against women clearly have processes in place that make it possible for victims to report these crimes. Those with the least number of reported crimes could probably stand to improve these processes. (Although of course a high number of reported crimes should not be considered a good thing.)
Likewise, the countries with the most favorable laws for women may not actually be the safest, but they are at least making the effort to create systems that support safety. Those with the least favorable laws would be hard pressed to promote women’s safety without updating their legal systems.
Regardless of where different countries rank on our lists, every single country must keep working to ensure that women can easily and safely report crimes committed against them. And in addition to building women’s safety into its legal system, each country should also make sure that the relevant laws are implemented, enforced, and upheld throughout society.
Research Methodology Part 1 – Crimes Against Women
First, we’ll explain our research on crimes committed against women across the world. We rated 78 countries based on four different categories:
- Murder of women – The murder rate per 100,000 women between 2010 and 2020, based on officially reported crimes
- Rape – The rape rate per 100,000 women between 2010 and 2019, based on officially reported crimes
- Sexual abuse – The rate of sexual abuse per 100,000 women between 2010 and 2020, based on officially reported crimes (and excluding reports of rape)
- Domestic violence – The average percentage of women (aged 15 and older) who were victims of physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner between 2010 and 2017, based on officially reported crimes
All of these rates were calculated based on the total female population of each country, which we determined based on official statistics.
For each of these variables, we drew data from publicly available government statistics, official police reports, and studies by reputable institutions such as the WHO, the UN, RAINN, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and other organizations dedicated to women’s safety.
It should be noted that data for crimes is based only on officially reported cases. As these kinds of crimes often go unreported – from sexual abuse and sexual assault in the US military to the murders of trans women – we can assume that the actual number of occurrences is higher in all countries.
In some places the actual numbers are likely significantly higher; especially in countries where reporting these crimes can result in punishment for the victim, or where violence is normalized as an accepted part of the culture. For example, in some Middle Eastern countries, women who report sexual assault could go to prison or even be killed to protect their family’s honor.
A few important notes
- For some countries (including Barbados, Belgium, and Guyana, among others), we were only able to find the total number of reported rape cases, including both male and female victims. In these cases, we counted 90% of this number as female victims, based on data from RAINN, which states that 9 out of 10 rape victims are female (this percentage was confirmed by our findings in almost all of the other countries).
- For some countries (including Costa Rica, Kenya, and Lebanon, among others), we only found data reflecting the rate of reported rape cases per 100,000 people (male and female). In these cases, we converted this rate to the total number of rape cases, and then calculated an estimated rate for women using the 90% figure explained above.
- Not all countries define rape and sexual assault in the same way. In Australia, for example, the legal system recognizes three different degrees of sexual assault. In cases like this, we cross-referenced as many data sources as possible to obtain representative numbers.
- Since many countries don’t have publicly available data on these crimes, our research only included the 78 countries for which we could find data in all categories.
Calculating our ranking
In order to calculate a ranking that took into account all four of the variables we examined, we needed to normalize our data. We used the following formula to do so:
Normalized data = (actual value – min value) / (max value – min value)
The minimum value represented the worst case scenario (the highest rate we found), and the maximum value represented the best case scenario (no crimes at all):
- Murder: minimum = 20,* maximum = 0
- Rape: minimum = 143,* maximum = 0
- Sexual abuse: minimum = 242,* maximum = 0
- Domestic violence: minimum = 100, maximum = 0 (shown in percentage)
*Rates calculated per 100,000 women
We also weighted each variable according to the gravity of the offense, to obtain a more accurate result:
- Murder = 3
- Rape = 2
- Sexual abuse = 1
- Domestic violence = 1
For each country, the result was an average of the weighted and normalized data. We then ranked the countries according to these averages.
Results Part 1 – Crimes Against Women
These are the results of our research, according to the methodology described above. Because the data available is limited to crimes that were reported to police, these rankings do not necessarily reflect the safest and most dangerous countries for women in reality.
Ironically, a lower number of reported crimes may actually mean that a country is less safe for women, because it could signify that women face greater barriers to reporting violence against them, or that this violence is normalized. (The countries in bold below are likely examples of this.)
Note: We used data from a variety of sources and sought to be as objective as possible, but these rankings do not necessarily represent the full picture of violent crimes against women. They’re meant to serve as an overview of the relative (not absolute) levels of reported crime.
Countries With the Lowest Number of Reported Crimes Against Women
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- United Arab Emirates
Countries With the Highest Number of Reported Crimes Against Women
- South Africa
- El Salvador
- United States of America
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
*Although Sweden often ranks highly on other lists of the safest countries for women, we found that it has the highest (reported) rape rate in Europe. The fact that several other relatively safe countries like Norway, Australia, and New Zealand also rank highly on this list suggests that reporting may be much more common there, or that the definition of rape is broader – and not necessarily that more crimes are committed – although further research would need to be done to confirm this.
Research Methodology Part 2 – Women’s Legal Rights
For the legal ranking, we researched the following types of laws:
- Abortion laws – We assigned each country a total point value based on whether or not it allows abortions under the following circumstances:
- Risk to life – 6 points
- Risk to health – 5 points
- Rape – 4 points
- Fetal impairment – 3 points
- Economic or social – 2 points
- On request – 1 point
The point values above were assigned to countries that prohibit abortions under the corresponding circumstances.
For example, in Brazil abortion is allowed if the pregnancy presents a risk to life, or in cases of rape or fetal impairment. It is not allowed if the pregnancy presents a non-life-threatening risk to health (5 points), due to economic or social circumstances (2 points), or on request (1 point). So Brazil received a total of 8 points. A country in which abortion is allowed under all of the circumstances above would receive 0 points (the best possible score).
For the rest of the legal research, we assigned each country a point value of either 1 or 0, depending on whether or not it has relevant laws in place. In each case, 0 represents the positive alternative, and 1 represents the negative alternative.
- Domestic violence – 0 if there is a law against it; 1 if there is not
- Marital rape – 0 if there is a law against it; 1 if there is not
- Sexual harassment at work – 0 if there is a law against it; 1 if there is not
- Marry-your-rapist – 0 if there is no law to excuse rapists who marry their victims; 1 if there is
- Legal age of marriage for women – 0 if the legal age is 18 or over; 1 if not
- Inheritance rights – 0 if daughters and sons inherit the same proportion of assets; 1 if not
- Pregnancy discrimination – 0 if there is a law that forbids firing a pregnant woman; 1 if not
- Restrictions on women’s choice of work – 0 if there are no restrictions; 1 if there are
- “Head of household” equal rights – 0 if a woman can legally be the head of a household with the same rights as a man; 1 if not
- Laws that require women to obey their husbands – 0 if there is not such a law; 1 if there is
- Women’s independence – 0 if women are legally in control of their own lives and decisions; 1 if they are not
- Marriage by abduction – 0 if this is prohibited by law; 1 if it is not
- Women’s right to vote – 0 if women are allowed to vote; 1 if they are not
A few important notes
- Just because a given country has laws in place to protect women, that doesn’t mean the laws are necessarily working. They may not be enforced or followed – so while our ranking does provide insight into where women are safest on paper, it may not accurately reflect their actual safety. One example of this is Cambodia, where women are legally protected in theory, but much less so in reality.
- While the variables regarding actual crimes (murder, rape, and other forms of violence) may seem more directly related to women’s safety, it’s important to recognize the impact of laws as well. If women legally have fewer rights and less independence than men, that means they have less power. This makes them more vulnerable to discrimination, mistreatment, and abuse of all kinds; it makes them less safe.
- As it was much easier to find information regarding laws than it was to find data on violent crimes against women, this part of our research included 192 countries (114 more than our research on crimes).
Calculating our ranking
In order to develop a ranking for women’s safety in legal terms, we normalized and averaged the data collected on abortion laws and the other types of laws listed above:
- Abortion laws: minimum = 21 (not allowed under any circumstances), maximum = 0 (allowed under all circumstances)
- Other laws: minimum = 10 (worst case scenario for every type), maximum = 0 (best case scenario for every type)
Results Part 2 – Women’s Rights and Legal Protection
These are the results of our research into laws regarding women’s safety. Keep in mind that a given country’s ranking below does not reflect the actual level of safety for women living there, but rather the extent to which they are protected by law on paper – not necessarily in practice.
Countries With the Most Favorable Laws for Women
The top 20 countries on this list all received a score of 0 in our research, indicating that they have the best possible laws in place in all areas studied. They’re listed here in alphabetical order.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
São Tomé and Príncipe
Countries With the Least Favorable Laws for Women**
- Syria, Mauritania
- Saudi Arabia
- Oman, Libya, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Vatican City
- El Salvador
- Tonga, South Sudan, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon
*Following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, Afghanistan moved up to #1 on this list. Under sharia, the laws for which this country earned a score of “0” changed to “1,” pushing it above Yemen.
Women’s Rights in Iran
We weren’t able to include Iran in our research because there isn’t any official data available on crimes against women. Domestic violence, marital rape, and sexual assault aren’t considered crimes in Iran and generally aren’t talked about, so there is a lack of information regarding their prevalence. There also isn’t any legislation or civil remedies on sexual harassment in the workplace.
Women in Iran do not have the same rights as their male counterparts. In court, a woman’s testimony is worth only half of a man’s. Other forms of legal discrimination that women face include not being able to apply for a passport, travel outside the home, or get a job without their husband’s permission, which significantly impacts their freedom of movement and financial independence.
Iran enforces Sharia law, in which women have a duty to be obedient to their husbands. Women can’t refuse sex within marriage unless they are sick, menstruating, traveling, or experiencing lochia after giving birth. Furthermore, rape victims do not generally come forward in Iran because they can be prosecuted for indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, which is punishable by death.
Islamic law in Iran also enforces a modest dress code. For men, this means that they cannot wear sleeveless shirts or shorts in public, while women are required to wear a hijab to cover their hair and a coat or tunic overtop of their clothes. This has been mandated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is often strictly enforced, as was the case in the murder of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old Kurdish woman was taken into custody by Iran’s morality police after visiting relatives because her head covering was too loose. According to eyewitnesses, Amini was tortured in the police van following her arrest, then again at the police station before she was hit over the head and collapsed. She was taken to the intensive-care unit at Kasra hospital in Tehran where she was declared brain dead and died on September 16, 2022. The police denied beating her and claimed that she had suffered a heart attack.
But hijabs weren’t always mandatory for women in Iran; in fact, they used to be forbidden. Before the national referendum in 1979 in which Iran’s population voted to become an Islamic republic, Iran was ruled by the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The Shah tried to westernize Iran, suppressing the laws of individual tribes and expanding women’s rights. He attempted to make religion subservient to the state by banning religious veils in public, ostracizing many conservatives and traditionalists in the process.
Women’s Rights in Afghanistan
Before the 1970s and 80s, women in Afghanistan enjoyed similar freedoms to women in much of the Western world. However, when the fundamentalist Islamic group Taliban took over, Afghan women lost a lot of the freedoms their male counterparts continued to enjoy.
Their plight was only slightly mitigated when the Taliban government collapsed in 2001 following the US’ all-out offensive against the group after the 9/11 terrorist attack. In 2002, the US started funneling billions toward the rehabilitation of Afghanistan, even helping install a transitional government. However, the continued and protracted conflict left women suffering much of the brunt of the economic, social, and cultural consequences of the civil and political unrest.
In 2020, the atmosphere of the conflict in the country started to change. A deal was made to gradually withdraw all US troops in exchange for the Taliban stopping attacks on Americans. On April 14, 2021, new US president Joe Biden declared that all American troops with leave Afghanistan by September 11. However, in the following months, Taliban fighters continued to escalate strikes against Afghan forces. As there was very little opposition, they soon overran many districts easily.
The war in Afghanistan turned a new chapter on August 15, 2021, as Taliban forces entered and regained control of the capital. The Taliban is notoriously fundamentalist, and it has been widely reported that the Taliban-controlled state has only made matters worse for girls and women in the country. Widespread gender-based violence and discrimination are reinforced by strict laws against women and enabled by a system willing to punish anyone who argues for more gender equality.
The Taliban publicly stated that women’s rights would be respected under the Sharia law, Islam’s legal system derived from the Quran and the hadith (the sayings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed). But human rights groups were immediately skeptical, given the Taliban’s history of harshly interpreting and implementing Islamic law.
Indeed, less than a month after taking power, the dress codes for women started tightening. The Taliban decreed that female students, teachers, and staff in schools must wear black abayas (a full-length outer garment), niqabs (a veil that exposes only the eyes), and gloves.
The de facto state doubled down on the strict dress code in May 2022, decreeing that all women must wear head-to-toe burqas in public. This is reminiscent of the attire restrictions during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
To comply, female presenters on Afghan news channels started covering their entire bodies on air, while soap operas featuring women have been banned. Similarly, male vehicle owners have been instructed to deny rides to women who do not observe attire regulations.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2022, Afghanistan placed last among 146 countries in terms of gender equality. Included in the evaluation were fairness among genders in economic participation, educational opportunities, health conditions, and political empowerment. The country also scored lower than in the previous year, where it also ranked last among 156 others.
Societal and economic issues have long been identified as risk factors for intimate partner violence. These socioeconomic aspects include culturally accepted gender aggression, poverty, widespread violence, and low community involvement.
In Afghanistan, 9 out of 10 women have suffered violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetimes. Moreover, previous surveys have stated that, even before 2021, at least 87% of Afghan women have been victimized by gender-based violence.
As reported in the UN Women’s Gender Alert series, the Taliban rule has fostered an intolerant mindset toward women and created a “fertile environment” for abuse. Women and girls have to rely on male relatives or household members not only to meet their basic financial needs but also to permit them to travel outside the home. This restricts their ability to report domestic violence, especially when the abuser is an intimate partner or household member.
Afghanistan’s 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law encouraged reporting and investigation of gender-based violence and discrimination, with occasional convictions in favor of the victim. It lists violent crimes, forced marriages, and preventing girls or women from getting an education or job as punishable offenses. This law was bolstered by the then more progressive Afghan government’s initiatives to create “Family Response Units,” judicial offices, and courts with female judges to oversee EVAW cases.
Despite the existence of the EVAW law, women and girls are still pressured to not report abuse cases and to seek family intervention instead, especially when the suspects are male relatives. Police are also often hesitant to arrest husbands reported by their wives. Additionally, many judicial officers lacked an understanding of the EVAW law.
Under Taliban control, there are no more courts for hearing EVAW cases. Gender-based violence reports are deferred to informal courts with traditionalist views, which force victims to settle arguments at home or risk being thrown in jail.
While running away is itself not a crime under Afghan law, unescorted women and girls can be charged with attempting to engage in sex outside of marriage and charged with “moral crimes.” If they do manage to accuse someone of sexual violence, women are often treated as the guilty party and can be prosecuted. In extreme cases, this can lead to being executed in state-sanctioned “honor killings.”
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded two reports of honor killings from August 2021 to June 2022, along with 87 cases of violence against women and girls (VAWG). A 2021 report by the Human Rights Watch labeled honor killings as “widespread” in rural areas, where they go unreported.
Legal representation for Afghan women is also severely lacking, exacerbating the permissiveness toward abuse. Women fled or have been sidelined from judicial institutions since the Taliban took control, and most cases of VAWG are not seen through formal judicial processes but are instead handled by traditional councils that are favorable to men.
Authorities and personnel for gender-based violence have likewise been removed or fled the country. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) have been dissolved. Additionally, organizations assisting victims of gender violence were reportedly targeted and threatened for their work. Most have since ceased operations or been shut down.
The discrimination against Afghan women and girls extends to their right to an education, which ultimately affects their ability to fully participate in society. The Taliban, since its takeover, declared that girls cannot yet be permitted to return to school, as a “safe learning environment” has to be established beforehand.
As first reported by TOLOnews on November 14, 2021, a mere 7 out of 34 provinces were allowing girls in secondary schools. The de facto authorities reported working on a nationwide policy to provide universal access to all levels of education for girls. However, on March 23, 2022, the Taliban announced that the restriction would continue.
Some districts allow girls in high schools, but there is no systematic effort to provide them safe access. Even in provinces where girls can attend classes, harassment and discrimination prevent them from doing so. There are also fewer female teachers, further decreasing girls’ confidence in schooling.
Studies by UNICEF and Amnesty International, among others, on intimate partner violence in impoverished countries found that uneducated girls are more likely to be forced into child marriages. They are also more susceptible to gender-based violence perpetrated by men due to lower levels of self-determination and empowerment.
Similar research reveals that literacy and basic education help women and girls confront and resolve problems caused by social imbalance. Educated women are likelier to speak up against discrimination and escape abusive situations.
Regarding tertiary education, universities in Afghanistan are open to women, but strict dress codes and gender segregation discourage the majority of the female population. This exacerbates the problem of women having fewer job opportunities and chances to participate in the economy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study involving 24,000 women across 10 countries. Their findings suggest that economic or financial insecurity is a leading reason for women remaining in relationships despite intimate partner violence. They depend on their spouses for basic sustenance and lack the ability to earn their own income, which gives them little choice but to stay in abusive and even dangerous relationships.
Aside from the personal and familial impact of unequal job opportunities for women, economic growth is also stunted by the lack of women’s economic empowerment. In Afghanistan, women’s participation in agriculture is crucial, as they tend to daily subsistence and livestock maintenance. Thus, mobility limitations significantly impede agricultural communities’ progress, increasing economic imbalance and leading to greater food insecurity.
In January 2022, nearly 100% of women-led households reported having insufficient food. Likewise, 85% had resorted to severe coping measures, such as restricting consumption.
Restrictions on their mobility have also caused sudden joblessness, despite women’s constitutional right to work. The Taliban decreed in December 2021 that women could no longer leave the house without a male family member to escort them. By July 2022, women’s employment dropped by 28%.
Women in civil society organizations and media institutions face even more challenges, given the authorities’ attitude toward them. As a result, 84% of Afghan women journalists stopped working in 2022.
Public service roles are also largely inaccessible to women. The Taliban’s interim government is made up only of men, who have dissolved the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA). A month after taking over, the de facto authorities instructed women working in government to stay home. There were even cases of women being escorted home and informed that their male relatives would replace them in their positions.
The situation is reportedly worse for women in the judicial branch of government. The Taliban has freed men convicted of gender-based violence. As reported by the BBC and The New York Times, they are now harassing female judges and lawyers by ransacking their homes, beating their family members, and threatening the judges with death.
The implementation of the restrictions on work is sporadic and inconsistent, adding to the confusion of Afghan women and putting them, as well as male family members who give them more freedom than the Taliban allows, at risk of reprisal.
Afghanistan’s healthcare system was problematic even before the Taliban takeover, with most of its funding and equipment relying on foreign aid. For women, there are notable limitations in specialized care, especially concerning reproductive health. The main issues include access obstacles, supply shortages, and staffing difficulties.
The lack of reproductive care for Afghan women typically equates to pregnancy-related sickness, complications, or death. This is even more pronounced in adolescent pregnancies from forced or child marriages.
According to data from the WHO, pregnant adolescents (10-19 years old) are more at risk of infections, puerperal endometritis, and eclampsia. Their children are also more likely to suffer malnutrition and low birth weight.
In addition to the health system challenges the country already faces, Afghanistan’s de facto authorities’ mobility restrictions equate to more inaccessible healthcare. This particularly impacts women, differently abled individuals, and impoverished communities — all of whom must rely on others to travel.
Moreover, mental health problems are not addressed, despite the prevalence of societal and systemic stressors and mental pressures. As reported in UN Women’s Gender Alert studies, 72% of families have observed a change in behavior in at least one household member in 2022. Particularly for women, hopelessness tends to be more evident and inescapable, given their lack of economic, social, and political capital. Other stressors include displacement, social trauma, and protracted conflict.
Here is an overall ranking of Crimes and Laws:
Surveying Women’s Perception of Safety
Fill out our survey and help us get a better assessment of women’s safety all around the world. You’ll also be able to see responses from other women all over the world.
The goal of our survey is to gain a real understanding of women’s safety in different countries in the present day. We ask you to fill out this survey in regards to your current country of residence, not necessarily the country you were born in.
Past Survey Results
As a supplement to our data-based research, we decided to conduct our own informal survey of women in our network.* We gathered data on each respondent’s country (either current or home country), age group, and gender identity. The sample group included 222 people (221 who identified as female/women, and 1 who identified as non-binary) from 52 different countries, all of whom were over the age of 18.
We created an online form to ask each respondent several questions about their perception of women’s safety in their country of residence or home country. Each question was multiple choice with pre-set answers to choose from – except for the last one, which was an open question.
Here are the results:
- In your current/home country, are you afraid to walk alone during the day?
- 6% – Yes
- 42% – In some places
- 52% – No
- In your current/home country, are you afraid to walk alone during the night?
- 48% – Yes
- 43% – In some places
- 9% – No
- Have you ever been called names/harassed in the street in your current/home country?
- 67% – Yes
- 23% – No
- 10% – Maybe
- Do you feel safe going out (to clubs, restaurants, bars, etc.) alone in your current/home country?
- 31% – Yes
- 21% – No
- 48% – It depends where
- Overall, how safe is your current/home country for women? (On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all safe and 5 is super safe.)
- 5% – 1
- 19% – 2
- 45% – 3
- 25% – 4
- 7% – 5
- Name 3 countries you think are safer than your current/home country. (The most common responses are listed below, with the percentage of respondents who mentioned them.)
- Sweden – 24%
- Norway – 23%
- Canada – 19%
- Switzerland – 19%
- Denmark – 15%
- New Zealand – 14%
- Germany – 12%
- United Kingdom – 11%
Percentages have been rounded to the closest whole number.
Although our sample size was small and not evenly distributed throughout different countries, our results do provide some interesting insights. For example, while more than half of the respondents are not afraid to walk alone during the day, almost half of them are afraid to walk alone at night – and more than 90% of them feel unsafe at night in at least some places.
Two-thirds of the respondents have been harassed in some way, and more than two-thirds of them feel unsafe going out alone in at least some places. The most common score that the respondents gave regarding safety for women was 3 (with an average of 3.11). This shows that many women don’t consider their country to be either particularly safe or especially dangerous, but rather somewhere in the middle.
As for the last question, it’s interesting that four of the most common answers (Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, and the UK) actually appear on our list of the countries with the highest number of reported crimes.
There are a few possible explanations for this. One is that these countries aren’t actually as safe as people think they are (although common sense – and other research studies – don’t support this conclusion). Another is that it’s much easier to report crimes in these places, or that there’s less of a cultural stigma surrounding rape and sexual abuse (for example). In order to confirm any of these theories, further research would be necessary – with a much larger and more diverse sample size.
You can see the full results of our survey in the infographic below.
*This includes freelancers that we work with and members of various Facebook groups for women. A special thank you to @wstv_lizzi, who shared our survey with her followers on Twitter!
Related Topics and Further Research
We believe that the rankings presented above are a useful tool for examining the relative levels of (reported) crime and (theoretical) legal protection, but we also recognize that they do not fully address some important related topics we came across as we conducted our research. These topics are an important part of any discussion of women’s safety.
Identity and Intersectionality
One of these topics is gender identity. Much of the data on violence against women may not include individuals who don’t conform to the traditional gender binary, such as transgender women. In fact, these individuals often face even greater threats due to their gender identity and expression.
Another topic is the way that race and class relate to women’s safety. For the purposes of this article, we did not include data on these factors – but in reality, they’re inextricably linked. A full examination of violence against women or women’s rights must take into account the concept of intersectionality, which allows for a more holistic perspective on how different forms of oppression and inequality coexist and compound one another.
Future research should ideally consider the concepts of gender identity and intersectionality, in order to create a comprehensive understanding of the safety of all women.
Self-Defense Laws Around the World
To supplement the research we conducted for the rankings above, we decided to look into other factors that may affect and/or address women’s safety in different countries. We wanted to know how various judicial systems and governments handle and regulate related issues.
The first thing that came to mind was the question of self defense, in legal terms. For example, if a woman is walking down the street alone, is she allowed to carry pepper spray or other weapons she could use to defend herself?
Regarding some countries, the answer might surprise you. For example, it’s legal to purchase and carry pepper spray in the United States. However, in several European countries, it’s either illegal or requires a weapons license. In Canada, pepper spray is prohibited altogether.
The ability to simply carry pepper spray might not seem like a big deal, but it can make a monumental difference in how women perceive their own safety – and how safe they actually are.
What Happens When Women Report Abuse?
Beyond the right to carry self-defense weapons, there’s the question of what happens when a woman actually defends herself. In this case, it’s more relevant to examine cases of intimate partner violence, in which a woman is abused by her boyfriend or husband and fights back.
Research has shown that there is an inherent gender bias in the way the legal system in many countries has historically addressed these cases. And this problem persists across the world today. For example, almost 80% of Russian women convicted of murder acted in self defense, according to a study published in 2019.
One might assume that a simple self-defense law would remedy this injustice. But Russia actually does have such a law in place; the problem is that it also has a law against “exceeding the limits of self-defense.” This essentially nullifies the first law, by making it nearly impossible to prove that someone acted within those limits.
Without diving too deep into the specific laws of all the countries we studied, suffice it to say that legal systems play an essential role in protecting women, especially in terms of self-defense.
It is therefore essential for people who influence these systems – from lawyers and judges to politicians and activists – to be aware of how certain regulations and legal precedents can affect women’s safety, both individually and collectively.
A Cycle of Abuse and Accusations
In many countries, legal systems are specifically designed to excuse or ignore certain types of violence against women. Take, for example, marital rape; dozens of countries (including China, India, the UAE, and more) either do not address it or explicitly exclude it from their penal codes. This means that it’s completely legal for a man to have unconsensual sex with a woman who is legally married to him.
Even in countries where marital rape is technically a crime, it often goes unpunished. For example, many states in the U.S. have legal loopholes that allow for exceptions in cases of spousal rape.
That said, some of the legal systems that are least favorable to women can be found in the Middle East. For example, Saudi Arabia’s system of male guardianship essentially grants men total control over women throughout their lives. This traps many women in a cycle of violence, as societal norms prevent them from reporting abuse or seeking help without assistance from a man.
Even if a Saudi woman manages to report abuse, she runs the risk of counter accusations. “Women may be charged with moral crimes, like khilwa (mixing with unrelated members of the opposite sex), or with fleeing from their homes,” according to Human Rights Watch.
In other words, in some countries, a woman who tries to get help could be the one who ultimately faces punishment, instead of her abuser.
Legal Precedents Promote Violence
This may sound extreme, but there are countries in which it’s not so uncommon for rape victims to face legal repercussions. In 2016, a British woman who reported being raped in Dubai was arrested and charged with the crime of extra-marital sex. In 2011, an Afghan woman was forced to choose between marrying her rapist or spending 12 years in jail.
This doesn’t only happen in the Middle East. In 2012, an alleged rape victim in Ireland was arrested for failing to testify against her attackers, due to extreme distress. The charges against the women in each of these cases may vary, but they have at least one thing in common; they all set a dangerous precedent that discourages women from reporting assault.
The more crimes that go unreported, the more perpetrators get away with abuse. This creates a culture in which violence against women is tolerated, or at the very least, ignored. Men become more likely to assault women, who become less likely to report these crimes. And this isn’t a theoretical situation – this is the global reality we’re experiencing today.
More Data on Violence Against Women and Girls
In some regions of the world, horrific forms of violence against women are culturally accepted and terrifyingly prevalent. And all across the globe, girls under the age of 18 also face a high risk of abuse. We’ve compiled the infographics below to shed light on these topics.
Female Genital Mutilation
How Can We Make the World Safer for Women?
From public initiatives to individual actions, the worldwide effort to increase women’s safety takes many forms.
Initiatives to Promote Women’s Safety
Many people, companies, and organizations around the world are working to increase women’s safety through various projects and programs. There are all kinds of initiatives in different countries to address the specific safety concerns that women face there.
For example, Brazil is known for its abundance of ride-sharing apps designed specifically for female drivers and passengers. This concept is predicated on the fact that many women feel unsafe when sharing an Uber or Lyft with a male stranger – and their fears are not unfounded.
There are a few similar apps in the United States. The most well known is probably the Boston-based startup Safr, which aims to “provide safe transportation and job opportunities for women everywhere.” It’s interesting that in addition to addressing the explicit issue of safe transportation, this company also focuses on empowering women economically by providing jobs for female drivers.
A more commonly known example of a startup that promotes women’s safety is Bumble. This popular dating app requires women to send the first message, effectively reducing the number of inappropriate or abusive messages that women receive. At first glance, it may not seem like its main goal is safety – but by giving women greater agency and control in online dating, Bumble is helping to make women feel safe in its own way.
Improving Women’s Safety in Public Spaces
Other initiatives are specific to cities or smaller communities. In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the UN’s Safe Public Transport for Women and Children Programme created the Meri Seif Bus to create a safer option for public transport. This project is part of Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls, a UN initiative that operates around the world.
Beyond transportation, other projects focus on identifying urban areas that women perceive as unsafe through digital crowdmapping. Platforms like Free to Be and Safetipin offer apps where women can report their experiences and advice for staying safe in cities around the world.
Of course, there are several non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting women’s safety, gender equality, and related causes. Some of the most prominent are UN Women, Time’s Up, Amnesty International, Futures Without Violence (US), Women’s Aid (UK), and the Canadian Women’s Foundation (among many others).
Whether through innovative apps or social development projects, plenty of people are working to find ways to make the world safer for women. Working directly with these initiatives is a great way to get involved – but you can also make a positive difference through individual, everyday actions.
Women’s Safety Tips & Strategies
Before we dive into this section, it’s important to make it abundantly clear that the crimes of sexual assault, harassment, or abuse are never the victim’s fault.
The onus should not be on women to protect themselves from violence; rather, we should work toward a society in which people are taught that violence is unacceptable. The most important goal is to stop violence from happening in the first place.
In the meantime, however, there are certain strategies that women can employ in order to try and protect themselves in unsafe situations.
How to Keep Yourself Safe
Here are a few tips, techniques, and best practices for staying safe, whether in an unknown environment, a foreign country, your own city, or at home:
- Always let someone know where you are and where you’re going.
- Share your live location with a friend when traveling alone or meeting someone new.
- Learn and practice self-defense tactics from a qualified and recommended trainer.
- Trust your instincts; if you have a feeling that a situation may be dangerous, try to avoid it. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable walking home at night, ask a friend to walk with you or find another mode of transportation.
- Download an app like Mayday Safety or Noonlight that you can use to quickly and covertly alert contacts in an emergency situation.
- Learn how to automatically activate emergency notifications on your Apple or Android device.
- If you feel threatened, don’t stay silent; loudly draw attention to yourself and your assailant.
- If you’re being abused – physically, emotionally, or psychologically – get help. Speak with a family member or a friend, call a domestic violence hotline, or contact local authorities.
How to Keep Others Safe
Here are some ways that you can help to keep women safe, regardless of your own gender:
- Ask your female friends to text you when they get home – and don’t let them forget!
- If you witness a woman being threatened or abused in public, speak up. Ask if she needs help, or even pretend that you know her. If the situation seems serious, contact the police.
- Never gaslight a woman or tell her she’s overreacting to a perceived source of danger.
- Do not engage in victim blaming when discussing violence against women.
- Do not participate in or tolerate the harassment of women in public spaces, such as catcalling or making unwanted advances, no matter how harmless it may seem.
The truth is that women’s safety is not solely a women’s issue – nor does responsibility for it fall only on men’s shoulders. We all have to participate in this process, in order to construct networks of support that are stronger than the inevitable threats that women everywhere face.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As previously mentioned, we believe that education and awareness is the first step toward meaningful change; if people don’t know about a problem, they can’t fix it.
This means it’s essential to continue conducting and publishing research, and making the results widely accessible. UN Women found that only 41% of countries regularly produce data on violence against women, despite the fact that these statistics are vital for public decision-making and for raising awareness.
One might assume that it’s most important to educate men, who don’t experience these problems firsthand. While that’s certainly essential, it’s equally important to spread awareness among women. Many of us tend to overlook these issues or take them for granted as a natural part of our lives, rather than asking ourselves what we can do to change them.
Taking Action to Stop Violence Against Women
So, what can we actually do? We need to take action to change the ideological, societal, and legal systems that either directly put women into danger or fail to protect them.
For example, we can stop objectifying women in the media through the male gaze, and highlight women’s worth as more than just sexual objects. One organization that’s doing great work in this realm is The Representation Project, which began with the award-winning documentary Miss Representation.
On a societal level, we need to work toward equality in the workforce and close the gender pay gap, so that men and women are on a more even playing field. This isn’t just a matter of being perceived as equal; if women are paid the same as men, they’re likely to be more financially independent and therefore empowered to end abusive relationships (to give just one example).
When it comes to the legal system, we need to make sure that our laws and law enforcement systems do everything possible to keep women safe and punish those who harm them. For instance, it’s crucial to educate police officers and investigators on the specific aspects of violence against women.
It’s important to point out that every country needs to participate in this process, regardless of where it ranks on our list – or any list.
Violence against women is not a geographically isolated phenomenon; it’s a problem all over the world, even in places that are relatively safer than others. And even those of us who do feel safe have a moral responsibility to help those that do not, for any reason and at any time.
Ultimately, making the world safer for women is going to require a united effort between cities, countries, governments, organizations, and individuals around the world. It may be a slow and painstaking process, but as long as we keep moving forward, there’s hope for a better future – one in which no one will be afraid to walk home alone at night.
Infographics – Women’s Safety Around the World
The following infographics illustrate some important statistics regarding women’s safety in specific countries and regions. If you would like to use or disseminate these visuals, please credit SafetyDetectives and link to this page.
Latin America and the Caribbean