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  The Worst Places for a Woman

Women continue to have second-class status in many parts of the world, with little access to healthcare, education, or basic freedoms. In this week’s List, FP breaks down the countries where being born female can be a cruel fate. 

Worst in the Americas 
Share of women in National Assembly: 5 percent 
Female-to-male income ratio: 52:100 
Female literacy rate: 57 percent 
In the slums around Port-au-Prince, organized gang rape is a fact of life for many Haitian women. Nearly half the young women and girls in the capital’s Cite Soleil shantytown have been raped or sexually assaulted, according to a 2006 U.N. report. Nongovernmental organizations say the problem isn’t taken seriously because many Haitians, including members of the police and judicial system, consider nonconsensual sex as rape only if the victim was a virgin. In fact, rape wasn’t even categorized as a criminal offense until 2005. In addition, if a husband finds his wife engaging in adultery in his home, the criminal code excuses him if he kills her; if a wife kills her husband under the same circumstances, she isn’t excused.
Worst in the Middle East 
Share of women in Assembly of Representatives: Less than 1 percent 
Female-to-male income ratio: 30:100 
Female literacy rate: 35 percent 
Early marriage is commonplace in Yemen, with 48 percent of girls married by the time they are 18 and some brides as young as 12. The result: poor health for mothers and babies. One in 39 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 1 in 10 children doesn’t make it to a fifth birthday. Yemeni women live particularly restricted lives; for example, getting a passport and traveling abroad requires a husband’s or father’s permission. 
Worst in Africa 
Share of women in Parliament: 13 percent 
Female-to-male income ratio: 45:100 
Female literacy rate: 24 percent 
Sierra Leone has the unfortunate distinction of having the worst gender inequality in the world, according to the U.N. Human Development Report’s gender index, which scores countries on health, education, and economic indicators for women. One in 8 women dies during pregnancy or childbirth, and women have an abysmal life expectancy of just 43 years, one of the lowest in the world. Girls can expect to receive only six years of schooling. On top of it all, the horrors of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, in which perhaps a third of the country’s women and girls suffered sexual violence, haunt women today. Widows struggle to get by, survivors of wartime rape face stigma and discrimination, and men continue to assault women with impunity. The country’s Parliament enacted laws last June that criminalize wife-beating and allow women to inherit property, but how well those measures will be enforced remains to be seen.
Worst in South Asia 
Share of women in Constituent Assembly: About 32 percent
Female-to-male income ratio: 50:100 
Female literacy rate: 35 percent 
Marriage comes early in Nepal: Women born in the late 1970s married at a median age of 16. And motherhood is particularly dangerous. Nepal is the “deadliest place in the world to give birth outside Afghanistan and a clutch of countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to a 2006 report by the International Federation of the Red Cross. That’s because only about 1 in 5 births is attended by trained health personnel. But the government is taking steps to improve women’s lives: A quota system for women and minorities resulted in a third of the Constituent Assembly seats going to women in the April elections.
Worst in Asia-Pacific 
Share of women in National Parliament: Less than 1 percent
Female-to-male income ratio: 72:100 
Female literacy rate: 51 percent 
Girls in Papua New Guinea can expect to receive only five years of schooling. What’s worse, accusing women of sorcery is often used as a form of social “payback.” If someone unexpectedly becomes ill or dies, the grievance is often taken out on an alleged “sorcerer”—almost always a woman—who is beaten, raped, or even killed in retaliation. Meanwhile, women have four times the risk of contracting HIV as men “because their social standing does not allow them to negotiate safe sex,” according to Oxfam New Zealand’s Web site.
Worst in Europe 
Share of women in Parliament: 22 percent 
Female-to-male income ratio: 63:100 
Female literacy rate: 99 percent 
Moldova is a major source country for women trafficked into prostitution. In a country whose per capita income (adjusted for purchasing power) is in the same league as India and Nicaragua, young women and girls often fall for recruiters’ promises of well-paying jobs abroad, only to be forced to work for pimps in places such as Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to prevent trafficking and protect victims have been weak; some government officials and police officers have even been complicit in trafficking. But things might be looking up: The first female prime minister took office this year.