Violence, dismal health care and brutal poverty make Afghanistan the world's most dangerous country for women, with Congo a close second due to horrific levels of rape, a Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll said on Wednesday.
Pakistan, India and Somalia ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the global survey of perceptions of threats ranging from domestic abuse and economic discrimination to female feticide, genital mutilation and acid attacks.
"Ongoing conflict, NATO air strikes and cultural practices combined make Afghanistan a very dangerous place for women," said Clementina Cantoni, a Pakistan-based aid worker with ECHO, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department.
"In addition, women who do attempt to speak out or take on public roles that challenge ingrained gender stereotypes of what's acceptable for women to do or not, such as working as policewomen or news broadcasters, are often intimidated or killed."
The poll by TrustLaw (www.trust.org/trustlaw), a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, marked the launch of its new TrustLaw Women section, a global hub of news and information on women's legal rights.
TrustLaw asked 213 gender experts from five continents to rank countries by overall perceptions of danger as well as by six risks. The risks were health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking.
Some experts said the poll showed that subtle dangers such as discrimination that don't grab headlines are sometimes just as significant risks for women as bombs, bullets, stonings and systematic rape in conflict zones.
Afghanistan emerged as the most dangerous country for women overall and worst in three of the six risk categories: health, non-sexual violence and lack of access to economic resources.
Respondents cited sky-high maternal mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a near total lack of economic rights. Afghan women have a one in 11 chance of dying in childbirth, according to UNICEF.
Democratic Republic of Congo, still reeling from a 1998-2003 war and accompanying humanitarian disaster that killed 5.4-million people, came second mainly due to staggering levels of sexual violence in the lawless east.
More than 400,000 women are raped in the country each year, according to a recent study by U.S. researchers. The United Nations has called Congo the rape capital of the world.
Pakistan ranked third largely on the basis of cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women. These include acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse.
Some 1,000 women and girls die in honour killings annually, according to Pakistan's Human Rights Commission.
India ranked fourth primarily due to female feticide, infanticide and human trafficking.
In 2009, India's then-home secretary Madhukar Gupta estimated that 100-million people, mostly women and girls, were involved in trafficking in India that year.
In addition to sex slavery, other forms of trafficking include forced labour and forced marriage, according to a U.S. State Department report on trafficking in 2010. The report also found slow progress in criminal prosecutions of traffickers.