Violence Against Women in Politics



Violence Against Women in Politics

For more than one year, the groundbreaking #MeToo movement and related Time’s Up initiative have broken taboos and sparked an unprecedented global conversation about the sexism, harassment and violence many women face in professional environments.

Women politicians have also been saying #MeToo in politics. With women comprising just 5.2 per cent of Heads of Government, 6.6 per cent of Heads of State,[1] and 24 per cent of parliamentarians[2] globally, politics is overwhelmingly male-dominated. But as in workplaces in other sectors, women are increasingly present in parliaments and elected assemblies, government bodies and political parties. As women continue to defy gender norms that have traditionally kept them out of politics, they encounter hostility and violence in these institutions.[3]

Violence against women in politics can be physical, sexual or psychological in nature. Both men and women can be affected by violence in politics, but violence against women in politics is gender-based. It targets women because of their gender and the acts of violence are gendered in form, such as sexist remarks or sexual harassment and violence. Violence against women in politics is a violation of human rights, and by hindering women’s political participation, it is also a violation of women’s political rights.[4]

An Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) global study published in 2016, and a 2018 study focused on European countries, found that violence against women in politics is widespread. Both studies revealed that more than 80 per cent of surveyed women Members of Parliament (MPs) had experienced acts of psychological violence, which included, inter alia, threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary terms. The studies also revealed that acts of psychological violence against women MPs are especially profuse online and on social media. Sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats against women in public life or women who express political opinions publicly have become commonplace. Young women MPs and those women active in the fight against gender inequality and violence against women were often singled out for attack.

The studies also showed that a quarter of the women parliamentarians interviewed were the target of sexual harassment perpetrated by male parliamentarian colleagues, both from their own political party and from parties opposed to their own.

Objective of the e-Discussion

The global fight to promote women’s equal participation in decision-making and to end all forms of violence against women is receiving unprecedented attention as more women in politics speak out through the #MeToo movement. Likewise, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals have put a global spotlight on the commitments of all countries to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (SDG Target 5.2) and ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life (SDG Target 5.5). iKNOW Politics and its partners will launch this e-Discussion alongside the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Contributions in Arabic, English, French and Spanish are welcome from 26 November to 21 December 2018. The e-Discussion seeks to raise awareness on the issue of gender-based violence against women in politics and expand the dialogue on how to make political spaces safer and more inclusive for women.   


  1. What is causing violence against women in politics to occur so widely across the world?
  2. IPU reports that about half of the women MPs subjected to acts of violence do not report them to the parliamentary security service and/or the police. Reporting rates for acts of sexual harassment are even much lower. Why do you think that is? What needs to change to ensure all incidents are reported?
  3. Social media is a top place in which psychological violence (e.g. sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats) is perpetrated against women in politics. How do you explain this? How can we make sure social media is a safe space for them?
  4. Violence against women in politics makes the work of women politicians difficult and potentially dangerous and therefore unattractive as a career option. What message would you give to women who are discouraged from engaging in political life because of the fear or threat of violence? 
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[1] Situation as of 1 November 2018. Data compiled by UN Women based on information provided by Permanent Missions to the United Nations.

[2] Situation as of 1 October 2018. Women in National Parliaments World Average, IPU: (accessed on 6 November 2018).

[3] IPU, “Sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliaments in Europe”, Issues Brief. October 2018.

[4] United Nations, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on violence against women in politics”, para 11. August 2018. See also UN Women, “Violence against women in politics: Expert Group Meeting report and recommendations”, 2018, and NDI, Not The Cost: Stopping Violence Against Women in Politics, 2016. 

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Ameena Al Rasheed's picture

Violence against women in politics is a by product of long social systemic structure of patriarchy, and such violence in all its forms is not confined to politics but to the wider public space, where the power dynamic will transform the socio cultural political themes and structure, and will bring to the fore new power dynamic and cognitive structures of women in the society. To combat violence in politics and in all public domains, robust and comprehensive approach need to be employed, starting from transforming views and ideas on women's contribution in our society and by placing women as human beings within our social, political, economic structures.
Political office, gives women wide range of opportunities to impact decision making process and to positively contribute to the course of political development, however, women's styles, needs, experiences might differ from the male oriented structure and experiences we witnessed for so long, entering a new domain for women, will not be without challenges and resistance, until we reach a point where women occupying high profile positions in politics and public space being normalized and respected.
To face up to such challenges and violence in politics, a solid accountability measures need to be well in place, beside the commitment from all fellow politician to acknowledge the role presence and contribution of women, as imperative to build a healthy and prosperous society, free from stigmas, stereotypes and exclusion. Moreover with the political sphere it is important to build solid democratic institutions that are able to preserve people's rights and in particular women's rights, hence fair election roles, and affirmative measure to secure women's inclusion in politics, wide system of building capacities, awareness and informing on issues of human rights and women's rights. There is a need to transform our societies by impacting the socio-culture structure and by producing positive images about women, and changing the mind sets, and challenging and unpacking patriarchy. There is still a long road through the way to build a healthy inclusive society for women, and the contribution of men in the process is as its utmost importance. The legal system can play a positive role in protection of individuals from all forms of violence and in particular in protecting women. Nonetheless, women will continue marching towards equality, inclusiveness and will be able to build strong front that transforms our world.

Dr. Indra Biseswar's picture

Question 1.
1. Violence against women in politics is one of the stubborn outcomes of patriarchal rule and dominance. Though we have come a long way asserting women’s rights and freedoms, mindsets and attitudes remain hard to transform. On the question what is causing the violence against women to continue, is simple: experiences from my work in Ethiopia, India reveal that societies, especially rural communities are rigid in gender norms. Women standing for elections are seen as breaking social barriers and become a threat to patriarchy. They are stigmatized and ridiculed, equally by women as men.

The media has done little over the past decades to break down social taboos for women to be seen as equal in politics and other decision making bodies. It would not be rare to find women politicians being judged from their dress-code, looks, family responsibilities and competence. All issues that do not affect male politicians to succeed despite them also being husbands and fathers.

Educating women to take a strong role in politics is seldom accompanied by preparing societies to accept women leaders.

Suggestion: Violence against women politicians should be tackled from all angels. Education, information, campaigns from the government to increase women in politics, feminist friendly media, families and communities should go hand in hand to eradicate ancient old stereotypes and gender biases.

Question 2.
2. Why women do not report acts of violence in office is often the same as why women do not all come forward to the many sorts of violations they endured in their lives. These could range from factors such as shame, guilt, being blackmailed, facing threats, feelings of insecurity and fears, to lack of support and understanding. Women often feel not being heard or taken serious or assume that they brought the violence upon themselves. Therefore, reporting remains a challenge. In fact, reporting has often resulted in controversial reactions where the victims are being scrutinized, exposed and intimidated.

Suggestion: Install an anonymous desk for reporting such crimes. (an anonymous helpline/phone line etc.). This would increase the feeling of being safe so women can share their stories. Encourage women to take up the challenge to bring an end to the different forms of violations they endure. The more stories come out in the open, the better targeted protection can be initiated.

Question 3.
3. The recent growth of online harassment, bullying, stalking, violations, extortions, blackmailing and so forth, have sky rocketed. It is naive to assume online actions would be safe for women to promote their campaigns or political agendas. Due to rapid technological advancements (mobiles, gadgets, apps, etc.), and digital proliferation, women need to be informed/taught of the hazards and risks. As social media is free, everyone, including strangers, trolls and families can unleash harshness to women politicians. Therefore special focus and attention is needed on how to use social media in a safe and secure manner and how to face the emerging problems.

Suggestion: Extend online protection of women politicians and take risks and threats serious.

Question 4.
4. Making politics safe for women is a challenging task as the space and freedom for women differ per country and region. Women politicians in western societies might face different forms of difficulties as women in Asian, African or Latin countries. The advantage women have is always within their own vicinity, where they are aware en educated in their own political, economic and cultural settings and traditions. As such, strong female leaders/politicians have emerged within these settings. There is therefore nothing to stop women not to proceed and try again and again despite being discouraged of facing many hurdles.

When women take office in any political surrounding, they become a pioneer to pave the roads for other women and the next generation. As such, they can demand policy changes, reforms, transformations to engender the political office. Every change starts with one person taking the first step. We had the first woman in practical all professions, and they brought about sustainable working environments for their fellow sisters. Think of the first separate toilets for women to the first HR policies for pregnant and lactating mothers. In such way, getting into political office is not only about playing the game by the [masculine] rule, but also transforming the rule to accommodate the feminine qualities.

Suggestion: Learn from best practices (exchange visits) where women have overcome their problems and challenges. Set up a specific task force to assist women while in office responsible for taking up signaled grievances, problems and challenges to ascertain sustainable solutions for future women politicians. Address the problems women’s face in political office step by step. These can include transforming masculine working environments to conducting gender training or even introducing new gender-friendly policies. Only then can we ascertain sustainability of female politicians.

Editor's picture

Posted on behalf of Juliana Restrepo, postdoctoral fellow at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

1.       What is causing violence against women in politics to occur so widely across the world?

VAWIP is an extension of the violence women face in other spheres of life. At the same time, it is a consequence of efforts to make politics more gender-balanced. Having more women in electoral politics gives perpetrators of violence more opportunities. However, the increased number of women also creates a sense that men are losing power and they react to try to keep that power. These reactions have been studied by psychologists who have found that when women (and people from racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups) enter into traditionally male-dominated spaces, such as politics, violence emerges as a way to maintain the gender status quo. Women who challenge traditional gender roles, by for example demonstrating ambition and leadership skills, are more likely to be attacked as an attempt to ‘put them in their place’ (see the work of Rudman and her coauthors).

2.       IPU reports that about half of the women MPs subjected to acts of violence do not report them to the parliamentary security service and/or the police. Reporting rates for acts of sexual harassment are even much lower. Why do you think that is? What needs to change to ensure all incidents are reported?

In my research on VAWIP in Latin America, I have found that the reporting mechanisms are not effective for various reasons. In some cases, women have to report the incident to party leaders who in many cases are the ones perpetrating violence or are close allies of the perpetrator. When women report in these instances, they are ostracized because they are seen as betraying the party. In other cases, procedures to report VAWIP are burdensome, especially for women in rural areas. They may also involve complex bureaucratic or legal procedures that take too long further putting the woman at risk by forcing her to work with the perpetrator once she has made a report or being ineffective as these procedures take longer than an electoral campaign. This leaves women candidates with no recourse of action. Another element that undermines reporting is that women who are attacked are not usually believed or their complaints are dismissed as irrelevant, not grave enough, or as ‘the cost of doing politics’. This behavior ignores that VAWIP frequently escalates, and seemingly minor actions -such as public insults and humiliating images- are followed by more overt forms of violence such as physical and sexual violence. In other cases, women who report VAWIP have the double burden of proving they were attacked and who their perpetrators were. Courts may rule that a woman was, in fact, attacked and reinstate her political rights, without sanctioning the perpetrators, leaving her at risk of retaliation.

To be effective, reporting mechanisms have to be independent, efficient and act fast. In many cases, the woman’s life is at risk! They have to also be victim-centered and understand the specific needs of women. Men politicians also face violence, but the motives and the effects of violence against women in politics are different. They must not re-victimize women who are attacked and must not assume that women are lying to obtain political advantages. Studies on violence against women, and on rape more specifically, show that false reporting is extremely rare.

3.       Social media is a top place in which psychological violence (e.g. sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats) is perpetrated against women in politics. How do you explain this? How can we make sure social media is a safe space for them?

I think online violence against women politicians occurs because it is easily accessible: people get direct access to politicians through their phone. It is also anonymous and this makes perpetrators of this form of violence engage in behaviors that they would not do if the victim could see them or if they were actually talking to the woman.

To make social media safe for women it is necessary that social media companies take abuse and intimidation seriously. They currently use the right of freedom of speech as an excuse to not act against abusers. However, when women are attacked online their freedom of speech is violated: they are silenced through intimidation and violence.

Editor's picture

Posted on behalf of Akua Dansua, former Minister of Youth and Sports (first female to occupy the post to date) and former Ambassador of Ghana to Germany.

The determination of more women to defy gender norms  and claim their rightful spaces  and  human rights  in  political, economic and public life globally, comes with  challenges and difficulties . Though it is not surprising that violence against women in politics as in other spheres is becoming rampant, it is the impudence with which perpetrators of such acts continue to violate women occupying political spaces  that is frightening, a situation  caused  largely by non-reportage or lower reportage as  in cases of sexual harassment as the IPU report indicates.

This status quo must be challenged just as women in Show Biz have done with the #metoo Movement  and Time’s Up Movement with the identification, naming and shaming  of  perpetrators of violence against women in the industry.

Among others, women  in politics should be encouraged to report violations against them, no matter who is involved. Political institutions must have codes of ethics  clearly spelling out punishment for violation which everyone, including staff must sign on to.

It is also expected that as the  implementation of the SDGs gain traction across the world, Targets 5.2 and 5.5 which are relevant to women in politics will also  see equal action to sanitize political leadership spaces for women’s full participation.On the  seeming negative  lead role of social media in the perpetuation of violence against women generally and also in politics,  such  media platform owners should be encouraged to develop apps that will automatically name and shame authors and also automatically delete threatening content. Until steps are taken to check the largely anonymous nature of social media space, such harassments of women and other such vulnerable groups will continue.

Women politicians should and must  be bold , courageous and assertive and continue to claim their rightful place in politics as a deserved human right. Just as some men have successfully made a career out of politics, women  also can and even be better politicians as evidence abounds worldwide to that effect.

iKNOW Politics should continue to use its platform to educate, encourage and empower women and especially young women  to claim their rightful  spaces in political leadership and decision-making across the world.Women need to be in  political and leadership  spaces to cater to the needs of  women who constitute about 51% of humanity.

Seyi Akiwowo's picture

Today marks 100 years since some women voted and stood for office for the first time in a UK election. Although in 2018 all women have the right to vote and stand they are faced with additional barriers to overcome, online abuse. This is a threat to democracy and gender equality and should not be the cost of women exercising their right to stand. We need global and intersectional approaches and that's why I am a huge supporter of NDI Women and Gender team!

In 2017, after facing horrendous online abuse and harassment as a young black woman in politics, when a video of my speech at the European Parliament went viral, I founded Glitch. Glitch is a small but ambitious non-profit organisation that exists to end online abuse including online violence against women in politics. ‘Glitch’ means a temporary malfunction with equipment, and I used it for my organisation’s name because when we look back on this period in time I want us all to be able to say that the rise in online abuse and harassment was only a ‘glitch’ in our history. I was asked to be part of NDI’s Internet Governance Forum 2017 panel on the issue of online violence against women in politics, and in the months since then, I have become a public advocate for NDI’s #NotTheCost campaign, participating in three #NotTheCost events in Washington, D.C., in May

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is currently seeking to address online violence against women in politics through a program which undertakes case study data analysis of political discourse on Twitter among student populations in three countries, Indonesia, Kenya and Colombia. The goal is to understand and raise awareness about the nature and impact of online violence on women's political engagement and ambition, in order to promote changes to social media platform policies, and in national and global legal and political frameworks. The data from these case studies will be used in advocacy aimed at digital platforms on the need to ensure that women can continue to participate in online discourse in order to protect the quality and integrity of democratic practice and culture.

NDI is also following up with another program to specifically examine state-enabled online violence against women in politics as well. State enabled online disinformation campaigns seek to control the space for and nature of political discourse. Given their access to resources and reach, governments have the potential to manipulate entrenched gender norms to do one or all of three things: 1) cause some portion of half of the population - women activists, voters, party members, candidates, elected officials and members of government - to withdraw from politics or participate in ways directed by fear or threats; 2) sway popular support away from visible politically-active women (elected and in civil society) undermining a significant political demographic; and 3) influence how male and female voters view particular parties, issues/policies and behaviors. Findings from this program are expected to be made available in 2019.

Bea Abellan,  Advocacy Manager at GLITCH UK's picture

We are Glitch, a not-for-profit organisation that exists to end online abuse. Our founder, Seyi Akiwowo, a black woman in politics facing abuse is the origin of our existence hence, this cause touches deeply our heart. We believe that there is no online/offline dichotomy. Therefore, we are not surprised that the misogyny that female politicians face offline is exacerbated in social media platforms, where perpetrators are protected by anonymity and enjoy impunity . Our strategy to make the internet a safer space for everyone and for women politicians, in particular, is based on three pillar: tech workshops, an active bystander attitude and a tech tax campaign.

We hold two types of workshops: the digital resilience dedicated to empower women, especially those active in all forms of public life (politics, agents, campaigners, activists…) to participate in the current hostile internet environment. And the digital citizenship workshop directed to educate the next generation to become good citizens online. Conversely, we encourage online users to adopt an active bystander attitude. This approach requires supporting victims of online abuse and combatting victim-shaming. Lastly, we realised that we cannot combat online alone and that tech companies and the government must also be involved. Our new initiative is the tech tax campaign which demands the government to raise new funds for a new misconduct: online abuse. The funds will be directed to enable, empower and educate society to end only abuse so women can engage in political life without fear of violence..

We want to be able to say that online abuse was only a 'glitch' in our history!