The best and worst countries to be a woman

An exclusive first look at the upcoming Women, Peace, and Security Index shows how these countries might surprise you—and why it’s strategic to care.

A version of this story is part of our November 2019 special issue of National Geographic magazine, “Women: A Century of Change.” Read more stories here.

No country has it all when it comes to gender equality, but some places are better than others to be a woman. The Women, Peace and Security Index seeks to understand these global differences by measuring women’s inclusion in society, sense of security, and exposure to discrimination—key indicators of how women are faring. The latest data show that some of the worst countries for women have achieved gains, even as some of the best are lagging in crucial areas. (Read the feature story here.)

National Geographic partnered with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security to illustrate the 2019 index.

MEASURING EMPOWERMENT 11 WAYS

Three main categories—inclusion, security, and justice—are broken down into 11 subcategories to assess women’s empowerment around the world.

Inclusion

Women’s level of participation in economic, social, and political opportunities

Representation in government

Percentage of legislative seats held by women

Cell phone use

Females age 15 and older who have access to a mobile phone

Employment

Women age 25 and older who are engaged in paid work

Financial access

Use of a banking app or other type of account among females age 15 and older

Education

Average years of education among women 25 and older

SECURITY

Sense of safety and exposure to violence

Intimate partner violence

Physically harmed or sexually assaulted in past year by a partner

Community safety

Females 15 years and older who report feeling safe while walking alone at night

Organized violence

Deaths caused by large-scale armed conflicts, per 100,000 people

JUSTICE

Experience of formal and informal discrimination

Discriminatory norms

Males 15 years and older who say it’s unacceptable for women to hold paying jobs

Son bias

When the ratio of boys’ to girls’ births exceeds the natural rate

Legal discrimination

Laws limiting women’s participation in society or differentiating between men and women

EACH NATION’S OVERALL SCORE

The 11 measures are combined to yield each nation’s overall score. Differences between countries can be wide, but no country attains

a perfect 1 ranking or scores 0.

Best

Worst

0

No data

1

Range shown on map

Norway

0.9

United States

0.85

Yemen

0.35

THE WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY INDEX RANKING

Nations are ranked by their overall index score. The 11 subcategories are scored from

1 (best, blue) to 0 (worst, red).

Best

Worst

0

1

SECUrity

Justice

Inclusion

COUNTRIES RANKED BY OVERALL SCORE

Repeated numbers

indicate tie

Map Color

Women in Estonia receive an average of 14 years of education—nearly double the global average.

MEASURING

EMPOWERMENT

11 WAYS

Three main categories—inclusion, security, and justice—are broken down into 11 subcategories to assess women’s empowerment around the world.

Inclusion

Women’s level of participation in economic, social, and political opportunities

Representation in government

Cell phone use

Employment

Financial access

Education

SECURITY

Sense of safety and exposure to violence

Intimate partner violence

Community safety

Organized violence

JUSTICE

Experience of formal and informal discrimination

Discriminatory norms

Son bias

Legal discrimination

EACH NATION’S

OVERALL SCORE

The 11 measures are combined to yield each nation’s overall score. Differences between countries can be wide, but no country attains a perfect 1 ranking or scores 0.

Best

Worst

No data

1

0

Range shown on map

THE WOMEN,

PEACE AND SECURITY

INDEX RANKING

Nations are ranked by their overall

index score, and the three main

categories are scored from 1 (best, blue)

to 0 (worst, red).

Best

Worst

1

0

Countries RANKED

by overall SCORE

Repeated numbers

indicate tie

Inclusion

SECUrity

Justice

SEE ALL COUNTRIES

Israel has climbed 46 places on the index, in part because of de-escalation of political conflict since 2017.

Turkmenistan’s financial access rates have jumped from one percent to 36 percent since 2017.

A new law in Moldova

includes two weeks’ paid paternity leave and a ban on sexist ads in media.

In Bahrain a new mandate says a woman can go out of her home only with her

husband’s permission.

In Iran financial inclusion ranks high: More than 90 percent of women have a banking or other type of account.

.

In South Sudan at least 47 percent of women experienced intimate partner violence in the past year.

Afghanistan reserves 27 percent of legislative seats for women, surpassing the global average.

AIMING FOR INCLUSION

MAKING THEIR

VOICES HEARD

Developed

Economies (27)*

Central and Eastern Europe

and Central Asia

Women’s level of inclusion in economic, social, and political spheres is a critical measure of a country’s basic human rights. Countries such as Rwanda, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and Benin have recently made notable gains in women’s education, financial access, or representation in the national legislature.

East Asia

and the

Pacific

Latin

America

and the

Caribbean

South

Asia

Middle

East and

North Africa

Sub-Saharan

Africa

*27 COUNTRIES PER GEORGETOWN DATA SET, BASED ON UN CRITERIA

Sweden

0.87

United States

0.75

China

0.66

Yemen

0.14

Afghanistan

0.35

Niger

0.34

Namibia

0.7

Inclusion index

Best

Worst

0.9

0.1

No data

Representation in government

The average share of women in national legislatures is 21.5 percent worldwide. At the current pace, it will take 52 years to reach gender parity.

Cell phone use

Phones can expand access to economic opportunities and promote independence.

Global

average

Number of

countries

59

80.9

91.3

100%

27

0

47

32

Finland,

Kuwait,

Libya, U.A.E.

South

Sudan

United

States

18

8

2

1

0%

1-10

11-20

21-30

31-40

41-49

50+

Women in national legislatures

Education

Many countries have excellent rates of completion for girls at the primary school level but fall short in the quality of secondary school education and graduation rates.

One country

United

States

Global

average

7.6

10

13.4

15

0 years

5

Developed

Economies

Portugal

Germany

Central and Eastern

Europe and Central Asia

Turkey

Estonia

East Asia and

the Pacific

Timor-Leste

Hong Kong, China

Latin America and

the Caribbean

Haiti

Argentina

Middle East and

North Africa

Yemen

United Arab Emirates

South Asia

Bhutan

Sri Lanka

Sub-Saharan

Africa

Burkina Faso

South Africa

Global averages

65.1

49.4

100%

0

Financial Access

Two out of every three women worldwide hold some form of financial account. Only one in 10 does in conflict-ridden countries.

United States

Norway

Developed

Economies

Employment

The global gender gap in employment spans 30 percentage points, with exceptions: Ninety-three percent of Rwandan women work.

Women not in paid work with access to financial accounts

Working women with access to financial accounts

Working women without access to financial accounts

Central and

Eastern Europe

and Central Asia

East Asia and

the Pacific

Latin America and

the Caribbean

Women in war-torn Yemen have the world’s lowest level of financial inclusion (1.7 percent) and employment (5.3 percent).

Middle East and

North Africa

South Asia

Some 35 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa are not covered by 3G+ networks, which inhibits mobile banking in countries where norms favor male control of female incomes.

Rwanda

Sub-Saharan

Africa

Mauritius

Aiming for Inclusion

MAKING THEIR

VOICES HEARD

Women’s level of inclusion in economic,

social, and political spheres is a critical

measure of a country’s basic human

rights. Countries such as Rwanda, Moldo-

va, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and Benin

have recently made notable gains in

women’s education, financial access, or

representation in the national legislature.

Inclusion index

Best

Worst

0.9

0.1

No data

Representation in government

Percentage of legislative seats

held by women

The average share of women in national legislatures is 21.5 percent worldwide. At the current pace, it will take 52 years to reach gender parity.

Number of

countries

59

47

32

18

8

2

1

0%

1-10

11-20

21-30

31-40

41-49

50+

Women in parliament

Employment

Women age 25 and older who

are engaged in paid work

The global gender gap in employment

spans 30 percentage points, with exceptions: Ninety-three percent of Rwandan women work.

Developed Economies

49.4

Global

average

0%

100

United States

Norway

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Tajikistan

Kazakhstan

East Asia and the Pacific

Timor-Leste

Laos

Latin America and the Caribbean

Guyana

Peru

Middle East and North Africa

Yemen

Kuwait

South Asia

Iran

Nepal

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia

Rwanda

Women in war-torn Yemen have the world’s lowest level of financial inclusion (1.7 percent) and employment (5.3 percent).

Cell phone Use

Women age 15 and older who

have access to a mobile phone

Phones can expand access to economic opportunities and promote independence.

Global

average

27

81

100

91

0%

South Sudan

United States

Finland, Kuwait, Libya, U.A.E.

Education

Average years of education

among women 25 and older

Many countries have excellent rates of completion for girls at the primary school level but fall short in the quality of secondary school education and graduation rates.

One country

Global

average

United

States

Developed

Economies

7.6

10

13.4

15

0 years

5

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

East Asia and the Pacific

Estonia

Latin America and the Caribbean

Middle East and North Africa

South Asia

Sub-Saharan Africa

Burkina Faso

Financial Inclusion

Women 15 and older who use a banking app or have another type of account

Two out of every three women worldwide hold some form of financial account. Only one in 10 do in conflict-

ridden countries.

Global

average

United

States

Developed Economies

65.1

0%

100

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Azerbaijan

Estonia

East Asia and the Pacific

Cambodia

Mongolia

Latin America and the Caribbean

El Salvador

Jamaica

Middle East and North Africa

Yemen

U.A.E.

South Asia

Pakistan

Iran

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Sudan

Mauritius

Some 35 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa are not covered by 3G+ networks, which inhibits mobile banking in countries where norms favor male control of female incomes.

SECURING SAFETY

BREAKING FREE

OF VIOLENCE

Large-scale conflicts can normalize violence against women within their homes and communities. Such general insecurity can promote a hypermasculine culture, which has widespread repercussions for women.

Organized Violence

Deaths from war or other armed conflicts

have declined worldwide for the

fourth consecutive year since 2014.

Intimate Partner Violence

About 379 million women experienced intimate

partner violence in 2018. Yearly rates are a

third higher in conflict-affected countries.

Share of women experiencing intimate partner violence

Deaths per 100,000 people

0.9%

47%

No data

6-50

51+

1-5

Syria still has the world’s highest level of violence—even after the conflict de-escalated from 2016 to 2018, halving the death rate.

Conflict in Afghanistan has contributed to a staggering prevalence of intimate partner violence, affecting nearly one in two women.

Perception of community safety

Fewer than 25 percent of women feel safe at night in Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, and Botswana. A lack of security makes women less willing to commute to opportunities outside home.

“Do you feel safe walking alone at night

in the city or area where you live?”

Female response

Yes

No

100%

Turkmenistan

Singapore

Somalia

United

States

United Arab

Emirates

Hong Kong, China

Global

average

63.8

India

Honduras

Afghanistan

Botswana

Venezuela

Syria

0

Developed

Economies

Central and

Eastern Europe

and Central Asia

East Asia

and the

Pacific

Latin America

and the

Caribbean

Middle East

and North

Africa

South

Asia

Sub-Saharan Africa

Securing safety

Breaking free

of violence

Large-scale conflicts can normalize vio-

lence against women within their

homes and communities. Such general

insecurity can promote a hypermascu-

line culture, which has widespread

repercussions for women.

Highest

Lowest

No data

Intimate Partner Violence

Physically harmed or sexually assaulted in past year by a partner

About 254 million women experienced intimate partner violence in 2018. Yearly rates are a third higher in conflict-affected countries.

Community Safety

Women 15 years and older who report feeling safe while walking alone at night

Fewer than one in four women feel safe

at night in Afghanistan, Syria, Venezu-

ela, and Botswana. A lack of security

limits women’s willingness to commute

to opportunities outside the home.

“Do you feel safe walking alone at night

in the city or area where you live?”

Female response:

Agree

Disagree

Global

average

Developed Economies

63.8

0%

100

United States

Singapore

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Ukraine

Turkmenistan

East Asia and the Pacific

Mongolia

Hong Kong, China

Latin America and the Caribbean

Venezuela

Honduras

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

United Arab Emirates

South Asia

Afghanistan

India

Sub-Saharan Africa

Botswana

Somalia

Organized Violence

Deaths caused by large-scale armed

conflicts, per 100,000 people

Deaths due to organized violence have

declined worldwide for the fourth consecutive year since 2014.

Number of

countries

96

53

10

6

2

0

0.1-1

1-5

6-50

51+

Deaths per 100,000 people

Syria still has the world’s highest level of violence—even after the conflict de-escalated from 2016 to 2018, halving the death rate.

Conflict in Afghanistan has contributed to a staggering prevalence of intimate partner violence, affecting nearly one in two women.

Pursuing equality

BALANCING THE

SCALES OF JUSTICE

Discriminatory gender-based laws and societal prejudice can make it hard for women to own property, open bank accounts, find employment, start businesses, and otherwise participate in society. Even in nations that have laws to protect women, what’s on the books may differ widely from what’s enforced.

Legal discrimination

Ninety percent of the world’s countries have one or more laws

that discriminate against women. In the past two years, how-

ever, 118 countries took steps to reduce legal discrimination.

One country

Global

average

United

States

Worst possible

Best

Developed

Economies

Singapore

United Kingdom

Central and Eastern

Europe and Central Asia

Uzbekistan

Bosnia and Herzegovina

East Asia and

the Pacific

Malaysia

Philippines

Latin America and

the Caribbean

Haiti

Mexico

Middle East and

North Africa

Saudi Arabia

Morocco

South Asia

Iran

Bhutan

Sub-Saharan

Africa

Sudan

Cabo Verde

Son bias

Prenatal sex determination and selective abortion can result in more boys born than girls.

One country

Azerbaijan

United States

Armenia

Norway

India

Vietnam

China

1.0

1.08

1.15

1.05

1.10

Natural rate of male to female births

Highest male bias

115 males born per 100 females

One male born for every female

Global

average

Discriminatory norms

Nearly 75 percent of men in Pakistan believe it’s unacceptable

for women to have a paid job. Disapproval exceeds 50

percent in Bangladesh, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan.

“Is it perfectly acceptable for any woman in your family to have a paid job outside the home if she wants one?”

Male response

Yes

No

100%

Yemen

Pakistan

Iraq

Bangladesh

Libya

Afghanistan

Turkmenistan

Indonesia

Niger

Global

average

Canada

Haiti

Rwanda

19.5

Uruguay

United

States

Estonia

0

Developed

Economies

Central and

Eastern Europe

and Central Asia

East Asia

and the

Pacific

Latin America

and the

Caribbean

Middle East

and North

Africa

South

Asia

Sub-Saharan Africa

Pursuing equality

Balancing the

scales of justice

Discriminatory gender-based laws and

societal prejudice can make it hard for

women to own property, open bank

accounts, find employment, start busi-

nesses, and otherwise participate in soci-

ety. Even in nations that have laws to

protect women, what’s on the books may

differ widely from what’s enforced.

Legal Discrimination

Laws that limit women’s abilities or

differentiate between men and women

Ninety percent of the world’s countries

have one or more laws that discriminate

against women. In the last two years,

however, 118 countries took measures to

reduce legal discrimination.

One country

Worst possible

Best

Global

average

U.S.

Developed Economies

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

East Asia and the Pacific

East Asia and the Pacific

Bosnia & Herzg.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean

Middle East and North Africa

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia

South Asia

Sub-Saharan Africa

Son Bias

A country’s gender ratio at

birth versus the natural rate

Prenatal sex determination and selective abortion can result in far more boys born than girls.

One country

Highest male bias

115 males born per 100 females

1.15

China

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Vietnam

1.10

India

Global

average

1.08

Norway

Natural rate of male to female births

1.05

United States

One male born for every female

1.0

Discriminatory Norms

Men 15 years and older who say it’s unacceptable for women to hold paying jobs

Nearly 75 percent of men in Pakistan believe it is unacceptable for women to have a paid job. Disapproval exceeds 50 percent in Bangladesh, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan.

“Is it perfectly acceptable for any woman in your family to have a paid job outside the home if she wants one?”

Male response:

Yes

No

Developed Economies

19.5

0%

Global average

100

United States

Canada

Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Turkmenistan

Estonia

East Asia and the Pacific

Indonesia

Latin America and the Caribbean

Haiti

Uruguay

Middle East and North Africa

Yemen

South Asia

Pakistan

Sub-Saharan Africa

Niger

Rwanda

CLICK THE BUTTONS to learn more about each of the four topics.

INCLUSION

JUSTICE

SECURITY

OVERALL

CLICK THE BUTTONS to learn more about each of the four topics.

INCLUSION

JUSTICE

SECURITY

OVERALL

Diana Marques and Soren Walljasper, NGM Staff


Living the numbers

When she fled her home in Pakistan last summer, half asleep in her pajamas, Gulalai Ismail wasn’t thinking about the power of data.

She was on the run and escaped to New York, where she’s seeking asylum from what she describes as “death threats, rape threats, acid attack threats, mob-violence threats” stemming from her activism back home with women in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

One of the women weighs heavily on her mind. “She had a small piece of paper with 25 straight lines on it,” Ismail recalls, etched to mark each time security forces came to her home and sexually harassed her. “She said she was an uneducated woman,” but despite her illiteracy, she was creating a record of her abuse.

“That,” says Ismail, “is data.”

The ability to track information, to collect it, to have data readily available—whether scribbled on scrap paper or mined from global databases—has power. Power to embarrass, to highlight success, to spark media coverage, and to pinpoint where change is needed.

To join in the effort to build evidence, National Geographic teamed up with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo to illustrate their upcoming 2019-2020 Women, Peace, and Security Index. The index serves as a kind of report card on women’s well-being, ranking 167 countries from best to worst in three key areas: women’s inclusion in society, sense of security, and access to justice.

Those three areas are broken down into specific categories, such as whether a woman has access to cell phone, feels safe walking home at night, or is surrounded by men who find it unacceptable for her to hold a paying job. Every country has something of a mixed record. The United States as a country ranks #19 overall. The subcategory of government representation—the percentage of legislative seats held by women—helped to lower its score. Mexico's overall country score ranks #103, but it happens to do well when it comes to women holding political seats.

“This exercise of rating and ranking can be really powerful because countries, like human beings, think in relative terms and compare themselves with others,” says Judith Kelley, author of Scorecard Diplomacy and Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. “They care about their status and standing, and it can be a really powerful motivator.” She cautions, however, that the measurements—such as gender equality— have to be meaningful to countries and that the data needs to identify actionable solutions.

The index creators see security as one way to show how meaningful women’s rights should be to leaders. Women in countries steeped in conflict face increased risk, but they argue that mounting evidence indicates the flip side may also be true: Countries that don’t protect women are more at risk themselves.

“We know from the preponderance of the data that there is a correlation in societies where this kind of pervasive, gender-based violence can lead to greater instability, can lead to eventual conflict,” says Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute and the former first U.S. ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, nominated in 2009 by President Barack Obama. The denial of women’s rights and the oppression of women, she says, usually follows “a linear track” to instability.

Verveer says the index is coming out on the cusp of 2020, which will mark 25 years since the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The conference set forth multiple targets to improve the lives of women around the world. "We're going to be looking at how much progress we've made in those 25 years, and there's been progress, no doubt. Also considerable gaps."

And the simple existence of rankings has power. When meeting with leaders to discuss the index, says Verveer, “the first thing that happens with representatives of governments is they look at the ranking” to see where they stack up.

According to the graphic, a country represented by boxes colored red are doing worse. Those doing better in certain categories appear blue. Each of those boxes, for a government official or a local organizer, can be a call to action, and for someone on the ground, can be public acknowledgement of individual experience. For example, when Ismail first started as an activist as a teen in Pakistan, she and her sister Saba created a group (one that would expand and eventually train Malala Yousafzai) to address the lack of public spaces for girls. She says the boys could play cricket outside, but the girls could only walk by while on the way to school or shopping. “Later we realized as we grew up that it was not just public parks and public spaces which are not accessible,” she says. “It’s actually every place where power belongs.”

Turning to the index with Ismail to look at Pakistan’s section on discriminatory norms, she says, even before looking, “It should be red!” And it is. The country ranks 164 out of 167 countries included in the index.

No matter where a country ranks on the list, there are surprises. “A pattern of unevenness categorizes pretty much all countries,” says Jeni Klugman, managing director of the Georgetown Institute and lead author of the index. “For example, Afghanistan does relatively well in terms of [women’s] political participation.” And Yemen, the lowest on the list, has relatively low levels of intimate partner violence and even son bias, the prenatal sex determination and abortions that can result in more boys than girls born in a country.

“Son bias is basically sex-linked abortion,” says Klugman. “But you need assisted technology to know the sex.” Ironically, in countries like China and India, “as the middle class grew, it [son bias] actually got worse rather than better—people could actually do the ultrasound, find out what the sex was, and have the abortion” if the baby was a girl.

Ranking squarely in the middle of the list is Venezuela. It falls at #84. Norway ranks #1, outstripping Iceland after elections led to the losses of several seats held by women. Had Venezuela only been measured on the dimensions of inclusion and justice, it would jump into the 40s, says Klugman, near Singapore. What pushes it lower on the list is the category of community safety–whether females aged 15 and over report feeling safe while walking home at night.

“When young people want to get together, they go to someone’s house and everyone sleeps over. If you leave after dark, your life is at risk,” says Beatriz Borges, a women’s and human rights activist from Venezuela. “You can be robbed, attacked, or raped with complete impunity,” she says.

The sleepovers are a sort of “cultural prevention” Borges says, to avoid violence. Perhaps the index will help turn those individual and “cultural” efforts into official ones, and those experiences into memories.