With the rise of the #MeToo movement and female-led protests around the globe against sexual assault, the reality about the day-to-day quality of life for females is surfacing. Unfortunately, even countries deemed to be relatively risk-free for women have their fair share of gender-specific injustices, whether it's low-quality healthcare, fear of reporting crimes, or lack of education, employment opportunities and independence. However, amidst the grim reality, there are definitely cities where women flourish and are able to live free of fear. Below, we examine the safety and quality of life in some of the major countries in Asia and Asia Pacific to see where women can live with the greatest peace of mind.
- Singapore & New Zealand topped the list for the safest city for women, with impressive healthcare, safety and opportunity indicators.
- Indonesia, Philippines & India ranked bottom despite government efforts to improve quality of life for women, indicating that government regulation does not always improve quality of life if they are in contrast to religious or cultural values.
- As in the case with Japan, we found that just because a country ranks high for overall safety, it does not mean women in everyday life face the same level of safety as men.
1. Singapore & New Zealand (Tie)
According to publicly available data, Singapore and New Zealand are the least dangerous places to live for women. Singapore and New Zealand have scored consistently well on major global indices such as the 2018 Global Peace Index and 2018 Human Development Index, indicating that these countries have low levels of internal and international conflicts, suffer minor gender inequality and see positive developmental and opportunity growth potential. Crime rates are low (Singapore has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world) and there are laws against marital rape, domestic assault and sexual harassment.
Furthermore, both countries have impressive health indicators. Life expectancy rates are about 11-12 years above the global average and infant and maternal mortality rates are significantly below average. These measures indicate women have access to high quality healthcare, adequate pre-natal and post-natal medical care and proper nutrition and sanitation. Furthermore, women have access to contraception, sexual education and family planning—meaning in most cases, they would not be penalised for leading a sexually active lifestyle. Lastly, women also have equal-opportunity protections, with high levels of education, literacy and employment, indicating that they are less restricted in terms of economic mobility.
|Quality of Life/Crime||1st||3rd|
|Education & Opportunity||7th||1st|
However, there is still room for improvement for both countries. While Singapore is generally very safe for women, the number of outrage of modesty cases increased 12% between 2017 and 2018, indicating that sexual harassment is still a concern. There is also the question of its ambiguous marital rape immunity law that is still only in the process of being repealed. The good news is that the majority of Singaporeans believed that husbands using force or coercion to get sex from their wives was morally wrong, indicating the lack of regulation is due to outdated legal code rather than societal values.
Alternatively, while New Zealand has strict laws against marital rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence, its female murder rate is almost three times that of Singapore's. This can be attributed to the high Maori mortality rate, as the female Maori population sees a 60% higher mortality rate than non-Maori females. Thus, while New Zealand tops our list, Maori women may face a heightened risk of danger. Lastly, while abortion is allowed under certain circumstances, the lack of abortion rights for rape victims is in stark contrast to many other developed countries.
Australia is third on our list due to its lack of crime, availability of healthcare and access to education, employment opportunities and legal recourse. It sees a high female life expectancy rate of 84.6 years and a low infant (3 deaths per 1,000 births) and maternal mortality rates (8.5 deaths/100,000 births), indicating that women have access to high quality healthcare at any stage of their life. Furthermore, sexual violence and harassment against women are criminalised in all cases, meaning women have full legal options against any type of gender-specific attacks. Australia's high ranking on global peace and development indices indicate it is a safe place for all of its residents. Lastly, Australia's 99% literacy rate, 12.9 mean years of schooling for females (higher than the male average by 0.1 years) and gender discrimination laws show that women enjoy relatively equal opportunities compared to their male counterparts.
|Quality of Life/Crime||2nd|
|Education & Opportunity||2nd|
Australia's room for improvement stems from its reproductive rights laws, which range from restrictive to open. Because these laws are managed by the territories rather than by the country as a whole, certain areas of Australia may be better for women looking for full reproductive and family planning rights than others. Last, there is still an ongoing problem with rape and domestic violence against women in indigenous communities, drawing a similarity to New Zealand.
Japan's great healthcare and record low crime rates make it one of the safest countries in Asia for women. This is highlighted by some of the lowest infant and maternal mortality rates on our list (0.19% and 0.005%, respectively), high quality healthcare and a female homicide rate of only 0.3 per 100,000 persons (as of 2016). Japan also does well on peace and development indices, indicating a country that offers a high quality of life for its overall population. Furthermore, it is one of the few countries where females have more years of schooling than men—despite the female labor force participation rate being 20% lower. Women also have full legal recourse against violent crimes due to the criminalisation of marital rape and domestic violence, along with the introduction of a special police force unit created to investigate violent crimes against women and children.
|Quality of Life/Crime||6th|
|Education & Opportunity||4th|
However, unlike the preceding countries on our list, the figures may look better on paper than in reality. While women indeed lead healthy and fulfilling lives, there is a significant problem with unreported sexual assault and discrimination. With 95% of sexual assault cases unreported, no concrete anti-discrimination laws and domestic abuse remaining a serious problem, Japan's overall safety is undercut by female-specific abuses. Thus, while living as a woman in Japan is not outright dangerous in the traditional sense, everyday life clearly still runs the risk of being uncomfortable.
Taiwan has been doing a great job of balancing human rights with quality of life and continual GDP improvements. Low infant mortality (4.3 deaths per 1,000 births) and female homicide (0.45 per 100,000) rates, access to high-quality healthcare, very strict abuse and harassment laws and high levels of literacy among the female population means women in Taiwan live generally safe and comfortable lives. Homicide rates are around the same as for Australia, and its Global Peace Index is around the average out of the countries we looked at, most presumably because of its ongoing dispute with China. Furthermore, despite some reporting of gender discrimination in employment, Taiwan makes it illegal to discriminate based on gender in academic and employment sectors. Taiwan's female president also indicates that there is at least a general respect for females in positions of authority.
|Quality of Life/Crime||4th|
|Education & Opportunity||3rd|
Despite having similar family planning laws as other major Asian countries, Taiwan requires parental and spousal consent for abortion. While this may not be the greatest threat to self-sovereignty, it still shows women may not always have full control over their own choices. While this does not present danger in and of itself, requiring parental or spousal consent can lead to potentially dangerous illegal abortion methods if the woman feels shame in admitting to a pregnancy.
However, Taiwan has some of the best anti-rape, domestic abuse and assault laws out of the countries we researched. For example, there are violence prevention and control centers in all cities, prosecutors can investigate domestic abuse even without the consent of the victim and there are extensive rape protections for victims. This is an especially important point because it has been recorded that the number of sexual assaults is greatly underreported due to fear of social stigmatisation.
Why Did Philippines, Indonesia & India Score the Lowest?
The Philippines, Indonesia and India were found to be the most dangerous destinations for women. All of these countries were found to have subpar access to healthcare, lax laws regarding women's safety, poor access to family planning resources and overall inequality. Despite government interventions and attempts to enact laws that protect women's safety, deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes either due to cultural or religious beliefs led to women fearing for their well-being more often than in other countries on our list.
For instance, why did India score the lowest out of all the countries we looked at? Despite Indian authorities trying to provide legal recourse for rape victims, funding was inadequate, cases weren't resolved properly and despite honor killing participants facing the death penalty, honor killings were still reported. Furthermore, the United Nations also said that India is the most dangerous place for female children, showing that women of all ages can be subject to inadequate quality of life.
We see the same story with Indonesia and the Philippines. In Indonesia, despite laws prohibiting rape, domestic abuse and other forms of violence, a 2016 government survey found that around 33% of women between 15 and 64 experienced some form of violence. In the Philippines, despite women going to school for longer than men and having better literacy rates, there are still high levels of violent crime. This shows us that while Filipino governmental structures exist to help women achieve quality of life, violence against women is still a problem on the individual level.
Furthermore, these countries are also still developing, meaning that access to healthcare isn't always the highest or high-quality healthcare and education may be inaccessible in some parts of the country. The maternal mortality rate of these three countries is above 100 deaths per 100,000 women (compared less than 10 deaths in top ranked countries), healthcare spending makes up less than 5% of the total GDP and in many instances, reproductive rights are limited. This leads to women in these three countries not only facing increased risk of crime at the hands of their spouses or discrimination in the academic or employment fields, but also an increased risk of dying from health-related reasons.
Methodology & Limitations
In this study we focused on the health and safety of women living in major Asian cities. To rank the countries, we used a weighted average that weighted safety the most, followed by healthcare and opportunity. The safety ranking examines legal protections and quality life of a country. To rank countries for this metric, in addition to using global indices such as the Human Development Index and the Global Peace Index to identify safety, we also looked at the number of legal protections against common crimes committed against women: marital rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence. These were scored from 0-1: 0 being full protection and 1 being absent protection, and a score of 0.5 given to ambiguously phrased laws or incomplete protection (for instance, if there was no direct law against domestic violence but a person could file a police report under another type of assault). This score was then integrated into the overall safety rank along with Global Peace Index, Female Human Development Index, Gender Development Index and female homicide rates.
Healthcare ranking examines medical access and freedom of family planning choices for women and opportunity examines education and employment participation. We looked at family planning laws (abortion laws, contraception laws and access to sexual education), infant and maternal mortality rates, government healthcare spending and life expectancy. Lastly, opportunity measured a woman's access to employment (female employment rate) and education (literacy rates and mean years of schooling) and the country's wage gap (using gross national income per capita). While not a direct indicator of a country's safety, access education and employment were deemed important because they show a culture's perception of women—high employment rates and literacy rates can be translated to a society where women are generally accepted among men.
|Rank||Country||Healthcare Rank||Safety Rank||Opportunity Rank|
Several limitations in our research are necessary to address, as they may have influenced the ranking. First, the Human Development Index does not separate Taiwan from China because the United Nations does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state. Because of this, we had to use China's ranking for Taiwan, despite Taiwan and China having different development factors. We had the same issue with Hong Kong when it came to the Global Peace Index (GPI)—despite Hong Kong enjoying one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it ranked lower than it should, due to being included in China's overall GPI score. Last, to make comparisons as fair as possible, so we used latest publicly available data for countries for standardisation purposes, which ranged from the years 2015 to 2017 reports.
Additionally, our research indicates that reporting for some crimes and safety measures may be imperfect. For example, we found that in every country we analysed, sexual harassment and domestic violence crimes were under-reported. Because of this, we do not truly know the actual number of crimes committed against women on a daily basis and thus could not take into consideration these rates in our analysis beyond empirical evidence. A good example of this is Japan, where despite being one of the safest countries in the world, sexual harassment is severely underreported due to women feeling shame or self-blame. Last, feeling safety is a relative term and government figures only paint part of the picture. Some women may feel safe in Indonesia but be nervous in New Zealand, and others may feel the opposite—thus, while we did our best to paint an accurate picture, each woman will have a different experience.
|UNDPR Human Development Index||Health, Opportunity|
|Global Peace Index||Safety|
|US Dept. of State||Safety|