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Women's Fear Goes Viral

03/11/2014 10:12 GMT | Updated 02/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Women's fear goes viral

The online video of a woman being 'catcalled' over 100 times on a 10-hour walk through New York City reminded us - if indeed we need reminding - that it is still tough being a woman. In a simple walk through town, women need always be conscious of who is walking down the street next to them and who, amongst men, could constitute a threat. And if you think the video is nothing more than a publicity stunt, think again: statistics show that women across the world feel increasingly unsafe, according to the new 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index™.

'Do you feel safe walking alone at night?' has been asked to millions of people around the world and just over half of women said yes, the lowest in the last eight years analysed. As if this is not enough, the video shows that women may have reasons to feel unsafe walking alone during the day too.

The Prosperity Index looks at drivers of prosperity across the world, including not only objective indicators, but also people's perceptions on a variety of factors in order to paint a thorough picture of reality. In this case, it reflected a bleak truth: in the 21st century, despite more than 50 years of feminism, women still have a lot to be scared of.

And the differences between countries can be quite surprising. In the UK, for example, 34% of women feel unsafe; that's worse than in China, Rwanda, Jordan and Sri Lanka. In Brazil, only 26% of women feel safe (compared with 41% of men), and in Russia only 35% of women feel safe - which actually shows improvement since the last few years. This is particularly stark in Latin America, where less than half of women feel safe in every year analysed.

Some critics may be ready at this point to condescendingly point out that feeling unsafe is an inherent characteristic of the fairer sex. Indeed, the Index also found that women are more scared than men in all countries in the world except for three, even though more men than women are victims of murder.

Studies have found that women's big fear is of sexual assault rather than murder. As you might expect, previous negative experiences with male strangers reinforces this.

The fact that women are more likely to be raped than men is widely known - although the number of unreported incidents for both women and men makes accurate comparisons very difficult to obtain for certain countries. In the UK, one in five women aged 15 to 59 have experienced some form of sexual assault in 2013, and over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year.

Moreover, the street is not the most dangerous place to be for women, since sexual assault is more likely to occur at home and/or committed by someone they know.

So what can we do to make women feel safer? The UK, home to one of the greatest feminist movements of the 20th century, needs to act now, and set an example to the rest of the world. Rather than focusing on what T-shirt the Prime Minister is wearing, let's start with actually tackling the sexism that inspires violence. That battle is far from won.