Women's safety survey: Thomson Reuters Foundation defends its methodology as questions over 'perception poll' mount

The Thompson Reuters Foundation's survey report titled 'The Most Dangerous Countries for Women-2018', which has adjudged India as the most unsafe country for the fairer sex, has been garnering a strong but mixed response.

Kritvi Paliwal June 28, 2018 15:54:45 IST
Women's safety survey: Thomson Reuters Foundation defends its methodology as questions over 'perception poll' mount

Opinions have been sharply divided over the Thomson Reuters Foundation's report which adjudged India as the most unsafe country for women.  Even as the National Commission for Women (NCW) rejected the findings of the survey entitled The Most Dangerous Countries for Women-2018 and said 'for a nation as big as India with a population of approximately 1.3 billion, the sample size is not representative of the country as a whole', the Opposition has used it as a cudgel to attack the Narendra Modi government.

The bone of contention between those arguing for and against the report has been the methodology used by the foundation to arrive at the rankings.

The methodology used

According to the report, "The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Thomson Reuters, the world’s largest news and information provider, conducted a global perception poll of experts in women’s issues to highlight the most dangerous countries for women... We contacted 548 experts focussed on women’s issues including aid and development professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, non-government organisation workers, journalists, and social commentators."

However, critics point out that the foundation has not provided information on the nationality, education and area of expertise of the respondents, which raises questions on their credibility and whether the sample size chosen was truly representative and inclusive in nature.

When Firstpost asked the foundation to provide such details about the respondents and the methodology used, the Thomson Reuters Foundation responded by saying: "It is a survey entirely based on expert opinion".

This response lends credence to the critics' charges that the survey is in fact a "perception poll" as no data has been used to gauge the levels of various parameters used in the polls — sexual violence, healthcare, cultural traditions and human trafficking — in various countries.

However, the foundation defended itself by adding, "All respondents work in the field of women’s issues: A range of aid and development professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, non-government organisation workers, journalists and social commentators. The list was compiled from a database of women’s rights experts built by the Thomson Reuters Foundation team." They further added that "all experts were given an assurance that their answers would be confidential to allow total honesty".

The Thompson Media Foundation further said "official data is often unavailable — or out of date — on women-related issues in many countries" and thus this survey is just "a snapshot of a situation at a given time — in this case March and April 2018".

The poll report mention that 759 experts were questioned "between 26 March and 4 May" and that the findings are based on 548 full responses, as received, to seven questions put forth by the foundation. "We did not use partial responses. The number of respondents who consider themselves experts on India was 101. Of those, 53 live in India," the foundation said in its response to Firstpost's query.

However, the foundation refused to divulge granular data saying that "the formula used to determine the final score of each country is proprietary". "The methodology, ranking and results was produced in collaboration by third party experts Thomson Reuters Labs. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a separate legal entity from Thomson Reuters, and independent," the foundation wrote in its response.

The question then arises: How reliable is the perception of these experts and is it fair to use their opinion to form the basis of a global report?

According to a study done by The Mint, India is not the most unsafe country for women but this perception might have been formed on the basis of the increase in the number of reported cases of rape and sexual violence.

NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma remarked "the countries that have been ranked after India have women who are not even allowed to speak in public". The Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi also rejected the report and questioned why the ministry wasn't consulted.

Meanwhile, a political slugfest has erupted. Union minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore termed it as "fabricated facts" and targetted the Opposition for trying to damage the country's reputation. BJP MP Poonam Mahajan targeted Congress president Rahul Gandhi for his attack on the Modi government and called it "a new low that the Congress president has stooped to".

Rathore added that the report is "afar from any solid facts or numbers" and that it was a"shame" that the survey found India as the world's most dangerous country for women.

Many others on Twitter echoed his sentiments:

American scholar and journalist Christina Sommers called the report "bogus".

The foundation sent Firstpost seven close-ended questions on which country the experts believe is the worst on the six parameters: Healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking (apart from a question on the worst country to live in). The countries were then ranked according to the number of times they were mentioned as worst in all these parameters. Even though the foundation maintains this approach was adopted as "experts who know the situation on the ground can offer valuable insight that data doesn’t always show", many question the appropriateness of such a global study being predicated on the "perception" of experts, warn it can severely damage the reputations of countries involved and argue that it will only further cloud the perception of the world sees developing democracies such as India.

A similar 2011 poll by the foundation ranked India the fourth most dangerous country for women. Afghanistan, which ranks second in the latest poll, previously topped the list.

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