Personal safety is a basic human right that no one should have to live without.
Unfortunately, at least 50% of the world’s population faces threats to their personal safety every day. Women of all ages and backgrounds are constantly dealing with unsafe situations, whether when walking home alone, riding in taxis, or simply existing in public places.
This is intolerable, and here at SafetyDetectives, we believe it needs to change. The world should be a safe place for everyone – regardless of their gender.
To help raise awareness and shed light on this issue, we decided to research countries around the world to see which are the safest and most dangerous for women, in terms of the number of crimes committed against them and the laws protecting them. We sought to understand what exactly it is that makes some places safer than others, and what we can learn from them.
This process proved to be incredibly complex, as we had to rely on official data that may or may not accurately reflect reality. The results of our research depended on each country’s level of transparency about the number of crimes against women, as well as women’s ability and willingness to report these crimes in the first place.
Below, we’ll explain our findings and explore the ways that governments, organizations, and individuals can work to increase and ensure women’s safety.
A Culture of Violence Against Women
Historically, most societies around the world have not prioritized women’s safety or been particularly kind to women in general. In many ways this is improving, and we’ve come a long way – but there’s also still a long way to go.
Many scholars believe this phenomenon is deeply ingrained in various cultures. Some research suggests that patriarchal societies became the norm around 12,000 years ago, when humans started practicing large-scale agriculture and settling down. This crucial shift in lifestyle also caused a fundamental shift in power, tilting the scales in men’s favor.
This societal change arguably planted the seeds for gender-based inequality, discrimination, and violence – and we’re still reaping the results. From seemingly insignificant acts of disrespect to life-threatening crimes, there’s evidence everywhere of a collective tendency toward violence against women.
Take, for example, the male gaze: a term that refers to how women are commonly portrayed in the media through the lens of a heterosexual male perspective. The male gaze turns women into sexual objects that exist primarily to please men. This implicitly normalizes the control and abuse of women by dehumanizing them.
There are plenty of prominent examples of the male gaze in pop culture – from the sexualization of female video game characters to misogynistic ads. And while the objectification and dehumanization of women might sound abstract, these processes have real and tangible consequences.
Think of the horrific stories that surface every so often about innocent women being harmed or killed. They temporarily take hold of the public consciousness because they’re specific and shocking. But only a tiny percentage of the victims of these kinds of crimes make it into the news. What about the rest of them?
Tragedy Sparks Outrage and Action
In March 2021, one story took on symbolic significance: the case of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was abducted and murdered by a police officer while walking home at night in London.
This story drew international attention – not because it’s an incredibly rare or unbelievable occurrence, but because it validated the constant fear that many, if not all, women face when they’re out alone anywhere in the world.
The public response to this tragedy was overwhelming and unique. Women from all cultural contexts and socioeconomic backgrounds spoke up to share their own experiences. They connected over their shared fears and coping strategies, bringing the global lack of women’s safety into the spotlight.
One woman shared a screenshot of a simple message reading “text me when you get home,” which immediately went viral. Many women who saw that post, myself included, instantly remembered all the times that they’d sent it to or received it from their friends.
We always need to ensure that our female friends make it home, because there’s always a possibility that they’ll be threatened in some way before they get there. The prevalence of street harassment is a reality that most women have learned to accept.
But Sarah Everard’s death and the conversation it sparked reminded all of us that we shouldn’t have to accept this reality. We shouldn’t take this kind of fear for granted or allow this violence to continue. We should speak up and do whatever we can to protect each other.
The first step toward solving any problem is understanding its roots and manifestations. That’s why we set out to conduct this research – in the hope that studying and writing about the issue could help in some small way to rectify the injustice of violence against women.
Researching Women’s Safety Around the World
In order to create a comprehensive ranking of countries according to women’s safety, we split our research into two different categories: crimes and laws.
Although our initial goal was to determine which countries are the safest and most dangerous for women, our research ended up taking a different turn. It’s extremely difficult to quantify something as complex as safety – especially as it applies to an enormous number of people living in very different cultural, political, and economic circumstances.
That said, we do believe that our rankings reflect valuable information about the countries studied – and not necessarily in the most obvious way.
For example, countries with the most reported crimes against women clearly have processes in place that make it possible for victims to report these crimes. Those with the least number of reported crimes could probably stand to improve these processes. (Although of course a high number of reported crimes should not be considered a good thing.)
Likewise, the countries with the most favorable laws for women may not actually be the safest, but they are at least making the effort to create systems that support safety. Those with the least favorable laws would be hard pressed to promote women’s safety without updating their legal systems.
Regardless of where different countries rank on our lists, every single country must keep working to ensure that women can easily and safely report crimes committed against them. And in addition to building women’s safety into its legal system, each country should also make sure that the relevant laws are implemented, enforced, and upheld throughout society.
Research Methodology Part 1 – Crimes Against Women
First, we’ll explain our research on crimes committed against women across the world. We rated 78 countries based on four different categories:
- Murder of women – The murder rate per 100,000 women between 2010 and 2020, based on officially reported crimes
- Rape – The rape rate per 100,000 women between 2010 and 2019, based on officially reported crimes
- Sexual abuse – The rate of sexual abuse per 100,000 women between 2010 and 2020, based on officially reported crimes (and excluding reports of rape)
- Domestic violence – The average percentage of women (aged 15 and older) who were victims of physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner between 2010 and 2017, based on officially reported crimes
All of these rates were calculated based on the total female population of each country, which we determined based on official statistics.
For each of these variables, we drew data from publicly available government statistics, official police reports, and studies by reputable institutions such as the WHO, the UN, RAINN, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and other organizations dedicated to women’s safety.
It should be noted that data for crimes is based only on officially reported cases. As these kinds of crimes often go unreported – from sexual abuse and sexual assault in the US military to the murders of trans women – we can assume that the actual number of occurrences is higher in all countries.
In some places the actual numbers are likely significantly higher; especially in countries where reporting these crimes can result in punishment for the victim, or where violence is normalized as an accepted part of the culture. For example, in some Middle Eastern countries, women who report sexual assault could go to prison or even be killed to protect their family’s honor.
A few important notes
- For some countries (including Barbados, Belgium, and Guyana, among others), we were only able to find the total number of reported rape cases, including both male and female victims. In these cases, we counted 90% of this number as female victims, based on data from RAINN, which states that 9 out of 10 rape victims are female (this percentage was confirmed by our findings in almost all of the other countries).
- For some countries (including Costa Rica, Kenya, and Lebanon, among others), we only found data reflecting the rate of reported rape cases per 100,000 people (male and female). In these cases, we converted this rate to the total number of rape cases, and then calculated an estimated rate for women using the 90% figure explained above.
- Not all countries define rape and sexual assault in the same way. In Australia, for example, the legal system recognizes three different degrees of sexual assault. In cases like this, we cross-referenced as many data sources as possible to obtain representative numbers.
- Since many countries don’t have publicly available data on these crimes, our research only included the 78 countries for which we could find data in all categories.
Calculating our ranking
In order to calculate a ranking that took into account all four of the variables we examined, we needed to normalize our data. We used the following formula to do so:
Normalized data = (actual value – min value) / (max value – min value)
The minimum value represented the worst case scenario (the highest rate we found), and the maximum value represented the best case scenario (no crimes at all):
- Murder: minimum = 20,* maximum = 0
- Rape: minimum = 143,* maximum = 0
- Sexual abuse: minimum = 242,* maximum = 0
- Domestic violence: minimum = 100, maximum = 0 (shown in percentage)
*Rates calculated per 100,000 women
We also weighted each variable according to the gravity of the offense, to obtain a more accurate result:
- Murder = 3
- Rape = 2
- Sexual abuse = 1
- Domestic violence = 1
For each country, the result was an average of the weighted and normalized data. We then ranked the countries according to these averages.
Results Part 1 – Crimes Against Women
These are the results of our research, according to the methodology described above. Because the data available is limited to crimes that were reported to police, these rankings do not necessarily reflect the safest and most dangerous countries for women in reality.
Ironically, a lower number of reported crimes may actually mean that a country is less safe for women, because it could signify that women face greater barriers to reporting violence against them, or that this violence is normalized. (The countries in bold below are likely examples of this.)
Note: We used data from a variety of sources and sought to be as objective as possible, but these rankings do not necessarily represent the full picture of violent crimes against women. They’re meant to serve as an overview of the relative (not absolute) levels of reported crime.
Countries With the Lowest Number of Reported Crimes Against Women
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- United Arab Emirates
Countries With the Highest Number of Reported Crimes Against Women
- South Africa
- El Salvador
- United States of America
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
*Although Sweden often ranks highly on other lists of the safest countries for women, we found that it has the highest (reported) rape rate in Europe. The fact that several other relatively safe countries like Norway, Australia, and New Zealand also rank highly on this list suggests that reporting may be much more common there, or that the definition of rape is broader – and not necessarily that more crimes are committed – although further research would need to be done to confirm this.
Research Methodology Part 2 – Women’s Legal Rights
For the legal ranking, we researched the following types of laws:
- Abortion laws – We assigned each country a total point value based on whether or not it allows abortions under the following circumstances:
- Risk to life – 6 points
- Risk to health – 5 points
- Rape – 4 points
- Fetal impairment – 3 points
- Economic or social – 2 points
- On request – 1 point
The point values above were assigned to countries that prohibit abortions under the corresponding circumstances.
For example, in Brazil abortion is allowed if the pregnancy presents a risk to life, or in cases of rape or fetal impairment. It is not allowed if the pregnancy presents a non-life-threatening risk to health (5 points), due to economic or social circumstances (2 points), or on request (1 point). So Brazil received a total of 8 points. A country in which abortion is allowed under all of the circumstances above would receive 0 points (the best possible score).
For the rest of the legal research, we assigned each country a point value of either 1 or 0, depending on whether or not it has relevant laws in place. In each case, 0 represents the positive alternative, and 1 represents the negative alternative.
- Domestic violence – 0 if there is a law against it; 1 if there is not
- Marital rape – 0 if there is a law against it; 1 if there is not
- Sexual harassment at work – 0 if there is a law against it; 1 if there is not
- Marry-your-rapist – 0 if there is no law to excuse rapists who marry their victims; 1 if there is
- Legal age of marriage for women – 0 if the legal age is 18 or over; 1 if not
- Inheritance rights – 0 if daughters and sons inherit the same proportion of assets; 1 if not
- Pregnancy discrimination – 0 if there is a law that forbids firing a pregnant woman; 1 if not
- Restrictions on women’s choice of work – 0 if there are no restrictions; 1 if there are
- “Head of household” equal rights – 0 if a woman can legally be the head of a household with the same rights as a man; 1 if not
- Laws that require women to obey their husbands – 0 if there is not such a law; 1 if there is
- Women’s independence – 0 if women are legally in control of their own lives and decisions; 1 if they are not
- Marriage by abduction – 0 if this is prohibited by law; 1 if it is not
- Women’s right to vote – 0 if women are allowed to vote; 1 if they are not
A few important notes
- Just because a given country has laws in place to protect women, that doesn’t mean the laws are necessarily working. They may not be enforced or followed – so while our ranking does provide insight into where women are safest on paper, it may not accurately reflect their actual safety. One example of this is Cambodia, where women are legally protected in theory, but much less so in reality.
- While the variables regarding actual crimes (murder, rape, and other forms of violence) may seem more directly related to women’s safety, it’s important to recognize the impact of laws as well. If women legally have fewer rights and less independence than men, that means they have less power. This makes them more vulnerable to discrimination, mistreatment, and abuse of all kinds; it makes them less safe.
- As it was much easier to find information regarding laws than it was to find data on violent crimes against women, this part of our research included 192 countries (114 more than our research on crimes).
Calculating our ranking
In order to develop a ranking for women’s safety in legal terms, we normalized and averaged the data collected on abortion laws and the other types of laws listed above:
- Abortion laws: minimum = 21 (not allowed under any circumstances), maximum = 0 (allowed under all circumstances)
- Other laws: minimum = 10 (worst case scenario for every type), maximum = 0 (best case scenario for every type)
Results Part 2 – Women’s Rights and Legal Protection
These are the results of our research into laws regarding women’s safety. Keep in mind that a given country’s ranking below does not reflect the actual level of safety for women living there, but rather the extent to which they are protected by law on paper – not necessarily in practice.
Countries With the Most Favorable Laws for Women
The top 20 countries on this list all received a score of 0 in our research, indicating that they have the best possible laws in place in all areas studied. They’re listed here in alphabetical order.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
São Tomé and Príncipe
Countries With the Least Favorable Laws for Women**
- Syria, Mauritania
- Saudi Arabia
- Oman, Libya, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Vatican City
- El Salvador
- Tonga, South Sudan, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon
*Following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, Afghanistan moved up to #1 on this list. Under sharia, the laws for which this country earned a score of “0” changed to “1,” pushing it above Yemen.
Women’s Rights in Iran
We weren’t able to include Iran in our research because there isn’t any official data available on crimes against women. Domestic violence, marital rape, and sexual assault aren’t considered crimes in Iran and generally aren’t talked about, so there is a lack of information regarding their prevalence. There also isn’t any legislation or civil remedies on sexual harassment in the workplace.
Women in Iran do not have the same rights as their male counterparts. In court, a woman’s testimony is worth only half of a man’s. Other forms of legal discrimination that women face include not being able to apply for a passport, travel outside the home, or get a job without their husband’s permission, which significantly impacts their freedom of movement and financial independence.
Iran enforces Sharia law, in which women have a duty to be obedient to their husbands. Women can’t refuse sex within marriage unless they are sick, menstruating, traveling, or experiencing lochia after giving birth. Furthermore, rape victims do not generally come forward in Iran because they can be prosecuted for indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, which is punishable by death.
Islamic law in Iran also enforces a modest dress code. For men, this means that they cannot wear sleeveless shirts or shorts in public, while women are required to wear a hijab to cover their hair and a coat or tunic overtop of their clothes. This has been mandated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is often strictly enforced, as was the case in the murder of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old Kurdish woman was taken into custody by Iran’s morality police after visiting relatives because her head covering was too loose. According to eyewitnesses, Amini was tortured in the police van following her arrest, then again at the police station before she was hit over the head and collapsed. She was taken to the intensive-care unit at Kasra hospital in Tehran where she was declared brain dead and died on September 16, 2022. The police denied beating her and claimed that she had suffered a heart attack.
But hijabs weren’t always mandatory for women in Iran; in fact, they used to be forbidden. Before the national referendum in 1979 in which Iran’s population voted to become an Islamic republic, Iran was ruled by the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The Shah tried to westernize Iran, suppressing the laws of individual tribes and expanding women’s rights. He attempted to make religion subservient to the state by banning religious veils in public, ostracizing many conservatives and traditionalists in the process.
Here is an overall ranking of Crimes and Laws: