By Liz Ford
The IPU study of 55 female MPs in 39 countries reveals ‘widespread and under-reported problem’, with more than 20% subjected to acts of sexual violence.
Physical, sexual and psychological violence against female MPs is undermining democracy and efforts to end gender inequality, according to a study of parliamentarians around the world.
More than 40% of female MPs interviewed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction while serving their terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children.
More than a fifth said they had been subjected to one or more acts of sexual violence and almost a third said they’d witnessed an attack on a colleague in parliament.
Some 80% of MPs said they had been subjected to psychological violence – hostile behaviour that causes fear or psychological harm.
The survey sample used by the IPU was small – interviews with 55 female MPs from 39 countries in five regions of the world – but the union’s secretary general, Martin Chungong, said the results made clear “the problem is much more widespread and under-reported than we realise”.
The survey will add to the growing call for action to stop violence against women in politics.
In March, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) launched a global campaign – #NotTheCost – to raise awareness of the violence women face when holding or seeking office at local, national or international level. As part of the campaign, the NDI wants more research to be conducted so the problem can be better assessed. It also wants to see more training for women in how to respond to threats and acts of violence.
At the launch, Susana Villarán, former mayor of Lima, said she received attacks and threats while in office that sought to “diminish my image and make it clear it was not a place for a women like me to try and disrupt that male world of politics and power”.
Recent analysis looking at political leadership contests between female and male candidates found that US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard received twice as many abusive tweets as Bernie Sanders and Kevin Rudd, respectively.
In the UK, female MPs have spoken out about their experiences of abuse. The MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, has said over one night she received more than 600 threats of rape. The Hampstead and Kilburn MP, Tulip Siddiq, said she regularly received online abuse, including death threats.
In May, MPs from the UK’s three main political parties launched the Reclaim the Internet campaign to shine more light to the online abuse women receive. The name of the campaign is a nod to the Reclaim the Night marches against rape and other forms of violence against women, which began in the 1970s.
In the IPU study, about 65% of those surveyed said they were often subjected to “humiliating sexist remarks”. Most of the time the comments were made in parliament by male colleagues, from their own party as well as from opposition parties. A number of women said they had been asked for sexual favours in exchange for political advantage.
“A female colleague in parliament confided to me that the speaker of parliament had requested sexual relations. Since she had refused he had never again given her the floor in parliament,” said one respondent from Africa.
A European parliamentarian told the IPU: “If a woman speaks loudly in parliament, she is ‘shushed’ with a finger to the mouth … That never happens when a man speaks loudly.”
Almost half of those surveyed said they had been abused via social media.
“Respondents said they must constantly deal with old-school thinking about their appearance, how they express themselves and behave, and the role they should play,” said the report. “More generally, their excessively or insufficiently feminine demeanour is a subject of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision. The same is true of their conjugal status, emotional, sexual and family life, imagined or real.”
One-fifth of MPs said they had been slapped, pushed or struck and about 12% said they had been threatened with or been attacked with a weapon.
More than 12% said they had been denied funds or resources they were entitled to that their male colleagues had received.
“I had to press to obtain a car, additional financing and security as enjoyed by my male predecessor. I obtained none of it and just gave up,” said one MP from the Latin America and Caribbean region.
Despite the abuse, 80% who had experienced sexual violence and harassment said the abuse would not prevent them from running for another term.
“Parliaments need to put their own house in order if they want to lead by example and stop discrimination and violence against women in all walks of life,” said Chungong. “The effectiveness of parliaments, progress toward equality between men and women, and the vitality of democracy itself all depend on it …
“The parliamentary community must speak out against sexism and harassment, and make clear that it cannot be tolerated as the price to be paid for women’s political involvement.”
Source: The Guardian