When the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed today that Afghanistan had topped its list of the world's most dangerous countries for women, Somalia's women's minister, Maryan Qasim, had one reaction: not Somalia? "I'm completely surprised because I thought Somalia would be first," she told Reuters (Somalia came in fifth, behind the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan).
Indeed, Qasim, a former obstetrician and gynecologist who returned to Somalia last year after two decades in exile, has insisted that her country is the worst place for women for some time now. During an appearance before the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London last month, she explained that "the most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant" because "there are no hospitals, no healthcare." The ubiquitous practice of female genital mutilation, is intended to guarantee that girls remain virgins until marriage, is partially behind the high rates of death during childbirth, according to Reuters (one Somali woman dies for every 100 births, according to the U.N.)
Qasim isn't the only person to hold such a dismal view of Somalia. In an article earlier this week entitled,"The Worst Places in the World for Women: Somalia," The Guardian's Abukar Albadri, reporting from Mogadishu, noted that "domestic violence, constant fear of rape, lack of healthcare and basic needs and cultural inferiority are the reality for women" in the impoverished, violent, and lawless country. One woman at the Somali Women Development Center described Somalia as "a woman's hell on earth," adding, "No woman in Somalia is happy to be a woman because, from the cradle to the grave, woman is a victim."
Why did the Thomson Reuters Foundation rank Afghanistan first? The survey, which drew on the opinions of 213 gender experts across five continents, noted that 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate and 70 to 80 percent face forced marriages while one in eleven die from childbirth. "The lack of hope of the situation of women improving in the near future, as opposed to countries such as Sierra Leone and Southern Sudan, makes the situation comparatively even worse," one gender expert explained. In one potential bright spot, a recent Senate report on U.S. aid to Afghanistan cited a USAID program that has expanded primary education access to 84,000 children, over 60 percent of whom are girls.