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Human rights

In “megacities” across the world, dangers may lurk for women

In some cities of 10 million or more, women's security, well-being and prosperity are at risk. The Thomson Reuters Foundation Annual Poll takes a closer look.

With the future set to be urban, there’s a very real risk that women in many parts of the world may increasingly be thrust into environments of harassment, limited opportunity and restrictive cultural practices.

In general, the migration to urban centers – some 6 billion people will live in cities by 2045, up from 3.9 billion in 2014 – creates new avenues and possibilities for people. Unfortunately, that’s more the case for men than for women because the growth of cities doesn’t always translate to an uptick in women’s autonomy, health and safety. That is despite general consensus that the health and prosperity of women is closely linked to the overall vitality of a community.

That’s why the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, set out to study how women are faring in the world’s largest cities.

“We chose women because they are a real economic accelerator, re-investing 90 percent of their salary into their families,” said Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “So when a woman thrives, her immediate community thrives with her.”

Even in developed countries, women face unequal pay, limited access to financial instruments and other barriers to social and economic growth.
Even in developed countries, women face unequal pay, limited access to financial instruments and other barriers to social and economic growth. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Coming to a clearer picture

Researchers used the United Nations’ list of 31 megacities from its “The World’s Cities in 2016” report and selected the biggest city in each country. That gave them a list of 19 megacities, all of which are home to more than 10 million people.

In June and July 2017, the researchers contacted 20 experts on women’s issues, including academics, policymakers and health professionals, in each city. Their questions pertained to four categories:

  • Sexual violence: Can women live in this city without facing the risk of sexual violence, and harassment?
  • Access to healthcare: Do women have good access to healthcare, including the means to control their own reproductive health and maternal mortality?
  • Cultural practices: Are women well-protected from potentially harmful cultural practices, including infanticide and early or forced marriage?
  • Economic opportunities: Do women have access to economic resources like land ownership, education and financial services?

All told, 380 experts were surveyed with 355 responses. That made for a 93 percent response rate.

Societies that limit the participation of women in politics also limit their advancement.  REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
Societies that limit the participation of women in politics also limit their advancement. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko (UKRAINE – Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)

A list of dubious distinction

The five cities that fared worst in the survey were as follows:

  • Cairo: Egypt’s capital city of 19 million was ranked as the most dangerous megacity for women, primarily due to faring poorly at protecting women from harassment and harmful cultural practices.
  • Karachi: The Pakistani city of 17 million tied for the No. 2 spot due to poor access for women to healthcare and economic resource.
  • Kinshasa: The Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of 12 million was the worst city in the survey when it came to women having access to economic tools.
  • New Delhi: This north Indian city of 26.5 million tied with Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the worst city in the survey for harassment of women.
  • Lima: The Peruvian city of 10 million ranked poorly when it came to women’s access to healthcare.

While most of the cities that did poorly are in developing countries, the issues facing women are by no means isolated to one geographic region. London came out as the most female-friendly megacity, for example, but women there still earn £12,000 less than their male counterparts on average over a year.

To review the full list, visit the Thomson Reuters Foundation site.


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