Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), formulated the third edition of the report on 2021/22 Women, Peace and Security Index or WPS Index. According to the report, Nordic countries Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark have the highest WPS Index scores. They are also some of the safest countries for women, while South Asian countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan — scored extremely low on WPS Index.
The index gives an insight into how far women around the world feel empowered. And also how we can enhance the well-being (Inclusion, Justice & Security) of women. The report analyzed the women’s situation in 170 countries using three dimensions via 11 indicators. The data comes from various sources — World Bank, U.N. Women, and Gallup. The research aimed to identify what it is like to be a woman in different parts of the world.
Introduction: WPS Index, Women Empowerment & Economic Growth
As I have already discussed in my article; Top 10 Australian Female Entrepreneurs, women’s empowerment leads to economic growth in the country. Empowerment and gender equality are also crucial for achieving the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Goals. An empowered woman with equal opportunities and rights contributes positively to the economic development of the country.
Through an inclusive, equal, safe, and just environment, any country can benefit from the potential of a women’s workforce. The Women, Peace and Security Index report also reflects this idea as the developed countries score high on WPS Index. These countries are some of the safest countries for women. Similarly, the countries that failed to provide a conducive environment for women have low WPS Index scores. These countries at the bottom are also the least developed countries.
I can vouch for this from the condition of my country Pakistan — one of the lowest WPS indexes scored countries. Here, men marry multiple times for male offspring. A desperate woman got a nail hammered on her head because a spiritual healer told her that was the only way she can bear a male child. Divorces are still taboo here so women keep up with abusive relationships.
Such must be the situation in many other South Asian countries too. Now let us discover more about Women, Peace and Security Index and its scores in South Asia.
Women, Peace and Security Index
According to Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security:
The WPS Index incorporates three basic dimensions of women’s well-being—inclusion (economic, social, political); justice (formal laws and informal discrimination); and security (at the family, community, and societal levels)—which are captured and quantified through 11 indicators, where a higher score indicates better performance.
The Women, Peace and Security Index consists of three dimensions, computed through data from various sources. Women’s accomplishments in five important indicators measure the first dimension — Inclusion. These indicators include education, employment, and parliamentary representation. Besides, access to a cellphone and financial services are important indicators to measure inclusion.
Justice is computed by the aggregate score of the absence of legal discrimination against women. Besides, Son bias (preference given to male childbirth to female/male to female ratio) and discriminatory norms (gender discrimination at work and gender pay gap) are also indicators for Justice.
Three levels — intimate partner violence (domestic violence), organized violence (deaths by conflicts, battles, protests, etc.), and perception of community safety (how far women feel safe walking alone at night in the neighborhood) measure security.
WPS index scores countries between 0 to 1 — the higher, the better. It is a unique index as no indices before have ever accumulated such a wide range of information on women to assess their well-being. Previous gender indices were mainly one-dimensional. WPS Index revolutionized the ways countries monitor the condition of women in their countries. In the WPS index sight — countries providing an inclusive environment to women with educational and financial opportunities are still not the safest countries for women if they fail to provide justice and security.
This research is particularly relevant for policymakers and all women’s rights advocates. The research gives an insight into what practices empower women and enable them to thrive more.
Women, Peace and Security Index in the Latest Report
The average index improved by an average of 9% since 2017 — with 90 countries improving their score by at least 5%. The global rate of progress has been slower between 2019 and 2021 than between 2017 and 2019.
Besides, the range of scores is wide as the country at the top scores more than thrice of one at the bottom. Norway tops with the highest WPS Index score (0.922), while Afghanistan (0.278) is at the bottom. Canada falls at 12th position after dozen other European countries on top. It is interesting to note that the difference between the scores of Norway at the top and Canada is not very broad. At the bottom, however, the range of scores is extensive, from Somalia (ranked 12th at the bottom) at 0.572 to Afghanistan at 0.278 WPS Index score.
The developed countries dominate the list with the highest Women, Peace and Security Index. Nordic countries are the safest countries for women with strong WPS Index scores. These countries have exemplary systems that aim to foster gender equality and reduce the gender pay gap. Still, despite all the good, inequality and exclusion persist on some level in these countries as well.
Each Indicator Score since the Last Report
This report shows an overall improvement in scores of women’s cellphone use, perception of community safety, and intimate partner violence in several countries. Parliamentary representation of women also rose, though it still needs to accelerate further. Organized violence has considerably declined. Most battle deaths occurred in regions like Afghanistan, Mexico, Azerbaijan, and Syria.
COVID-19 has impaired women’s inclusion and security. Many women lost their jobs more than men, and women-based businesses also suffered more during the pandemic. The pandemic has also triggered domestic violence against women in many regions.
South Asia | WPS Index and Safest Countries for Women
South Asian countries have unfortunately been the weak performing countries in terms of the WPS Index score. Rampant discrimination (both legal and at work), a lower level of economic participation, and rising domestic violence against women make this region less conducive for women. Nepal with a 0.714 WPS Index score and 95th ranking lies ahead of the other countries in South Asia.
Afghanistan has the lowest WPS Index score of 0.278. The rise of Taliban rule posed great threats to the rights and well-being of women in the country. In many provinces, besides experiencing low opportunities and inequality, women are also victims of violence.
Similarly, Pakistan also lies at the bottom with a WPS Index ranking of 167. The country lacked to provide a more inclusive environment for women with equal rights, employment opportunities, and economic participation. Also, domestic violence in the country is further aggravating the lives of women.
Nepal, the country of Mount Everest, has the highest Women, Peace and Security Index ranking of 95 in South Asia. Amidst the political instability and lower economic growth in the country, Nepalese women are better off than others in the region. Nepal has a WPS Index score of 0.714 — way higher than Afghanistan. The country stood out in the inclusion dimension with the highest percentage of women employment, representation in parliament, and cellphone use (second highest) in the South Asian region. The country has even scored above the global average on the following indicators: parliamentary representation of women, absence of legal discrimination, and organized violence.
The women’s mean schooling years have improved than in the last report in 2017, but still lower than others in the group. The sex ratio at birth is also not equal in Nepal. The country still has to go a long way to become one of the safest countries for women. Female citizens still feel uncomfortable walking alone in their neighborhood at night, and domestic violence also prevails, though lesser than the others in the region.
The country of tropical climate, serene beaches, and irresistible Ceylon tea, Sri Lanka ranked 105 in WPS Index. Sri Lanka is the second-best country for women in the region. Sri Lankan women have higher average years of schooling than any other country in the region. Then, it has the lowest percentage of intimate partner violence in the group. It is surprising the country still has a low level of women employment and female representation in the parliament, which have declined since 2017.
The legal discrimination against women persists in the region but not at higher rates than in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Since 2017, women’s perception of community safety also has declined. Organized deaths too increased in Sri Lanka. The financial inclusion of women also declined this year than reported in 2017.
The Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan has a Women, Peace and Security Index ranking of 129. Bhutan is the third better-off country for women in the South Asian region. The country has the second-highest level of women’s employment right after Nepal. Besides, the legal discrimination in the country against women is considerably lower than in the others. Women in Bhutan have a stronger sense of community safety in the country. The intimate partner violence is considerably lower than the others in the region.
Since the last report, the average number of years of women’s education also increased, but still needs improvements — it is second lowest after Afghanistan. The financial inclusion of women in the country is very low too. The good this is that this year, the country saw a rise in the women’s share of parliament seats. Bhutan is one of the safest countries for women in South Asia due to the decline in organized and domestic violence cases. The country also provides a safe community for women to reside in.
The country of rich culture, spices, and mesmerizing Taj Mahal — India has an overall WPS Index ranking of 148 with a score of 0.597. Indian women have the highest financial inclusion in the region. The country is the second country after Nepal with low levels of legal discrimination against women and discriminatory norms. Besides, women’s participation in parliament also has increased along with women’s average years of education since 2017. Still, these two domains require a lot of work.
The country has high Son bias as manifested by the birth sex ratio. Still, the country reports several cases of sex-selective abortions and discrimination against girls. The employment level and cellphone use of women in the country have plummeted as compared to the last report. The employment level decreased as a large percentage of women workers in India were informally employed, losing their jobs and earnings during the pandemic. Besides, the women still feel unsafe in the country to walk alone at night in the neighborhood. Intimate partner violence cases are also high in India.
The Land of Rivers, Bangladesh has a 152 WPS Index ranking with 0.594 scores. Bangladesh has the highest cellphone use among women, which has increased considerably since 2017. Since the last report, Bengali women’s financial inclusion also increased, and organized deaths have diminished. The average schooling years of women are also the second-highest in the region.
The country’s performance has deteriorated in terms of other indicators. As can be seen, the women’s perception of community safety declined considerably. Bangladesh has the second-highest level of discriminatory norms and legal discrimination in the region. The intimate partner violence percentage is also highest after Afghanistan. Despite the country’s efforts to provide psychological and legal support to the victims of abuse, the country still has a long way to go. Moreover, women in Bengal find it petrifying to walk alone at night on the streets.
The country of beautiful landscape, rich culture, delicious food, and unique truck art — Pakistan has a low WPS index ranking of 167. The country with a Women, Peace and Security Index score of 0.476 stands at the second-lowest spot among the South Asian countries. Pakistan has low scores in multiple matrices. The country has low average years of education of women and employment as access to the opportunities is low. Women rights advocates relentlessly work to make things better but encounter extreme backlash from political and religious parties.
The women in the country face extreme gender discrimination at work, way more than any country in South Asia. More Pakistani people prefer having baby boys over girls, as indicated by the high birth sex ratio (second highest in the region). Despite active participation of women in politics since independence, the country still has a low parliamentary representation of women. Pakistani women have low financial inclusion.
The legal discrimination rate has declined since the last report but still needs improvements. The domestic violence rate in the country is also high — still behind Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh. Despite the internal conflicts, rising tensions with India on the Kashmir issue, terrorism, and rising crimes, the organized violence against women have declined.
Despite all the inequalities and biases against women, Pakistani women feel safe in the community they live in. This perception of community safety in Pakistan is on par with the other safest countries for women.
It is worth noting that the conditions of women in the country also depend on what province they live in. Also, women living in urban areas have more access to education, employment, financial inclusion, and other opportunities than women in rural areas.
The country of rare historical sites, gorgeous pomegranate, and beautiful Blue Mosque — Afghanistan ranked the lowest not only in South Asia but also in the world on WPS Index. The country performed weakest on nearly all metrics. Afghani women have the lowest mean years of schooling. Besides, the employment level of women is also the lowest in the country. Cellphone use also has declined since 2017. The country performed slightly better than Pakistan in the financial inclusion indicator, still comparatively lower than the others in the region.
Surprisingly, women’s representation in parliament in Afghanistan is second highest in South Asia — going down since 2017. Legal discrimination persists in the country but has had a downward trend since 2017. Gender discrimination in Afghanistan is at the highest level in the region.
The situation in the country is not ideal for women. Since the rise of the Taliban government, organized violence against women has also increased. The battle deaths of women in Afghanistan are highest not only in South Asia but also in the world. The status of women in the country has plummeted since 2017. Women do not feel safe walking alone in their neighborhood at night now as the community failed to provide a safe environment for women. Afghanistan has the highest percentage of organized and domestic violence against women.
Summary – Safest Countries for Women | WPS Index in South Asia
WPS Index is a very important index that gives a snapshot of women’s situation across three dimensions in different parts of the world.
Nepal rules the South Asian region with the highest Women, Peace and Security Index, while Afghanistan has the lowest. Nepal also steps ahead of the other South Asian countries on the following several indicators — female employment, parliamentary representation, absence of legal discrimination, discriminatory norms, and organized violence.
Afghanistan lies at the bottom of the WPS Index ranking. The country has failed to provide a conducive environment for women. The country has the highest percentage of organized violence and intimate partner violence against women. Afghani women have access to low education, financial services, and experience gender discrimination at an extreme level.
Next to Afghanistan is its neighbor Pakistan, which ended up with a low WPS Index score despite its vision to become a safe abode for women. As the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the early years of independence said:
No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.
Becoming one of the safest countries for women is the distant dream of the country, which it does not seem to achieve any time soon.
Sri Lanka has more educated women and has the lowest domestic violence against women, while the lowest parliamentary representation. Similarly, India proved to be the most financially inclusive country, while most discriminating against female child-birth. Bhutan has the highest cellphone use and lowest organized deaths along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.