Violence against women in parliament poses a serious challenge to democracy. In addition to being a blatant human rights violation, it seriously impedes women’s access to leadership positions and their ability to fulfil the mandate they were elected to deliver.
Women still face numerous obstacles to being treated as equals in politics, despite their increasing presence in many of the world’s parliaments. They often face preconceived notions of how they should look, speak and behave. Simply by engaging in politics, women often challenge traditional roles and prompt a redistribution of power away from its traditionally male base.
Being a parliamentarian places women at risk of various forms of violence and harassment. The media often perpetuate the problem by stereotyping women MPs, and especially by objectifying and sexualizing them, and over-emotionalizing their comments and behaviour. Social media often creates a ripple effect around such behaviour, and creates a disproportionate impact.
This phenomenon is now receiving greater attention, as some women MPs are speaking out about the violence and intimidation they face in their parliamentary work and in public life. But in many cases, the harassment and abuse of elected women remains under-reported, under-studied and frequently invisible.
We have taken the lead in documenting and identifying the best ways to tackle this phenomenon, which must be fully addressed. We carried out a research project to establish the nature of sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians, why it occurs, what forms it takes, how widespread it is, and what can be done about it (Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians).
Acknowledging and understanding the problem is the first step towards seeking solutions. The IPU will pursue its research and outreach work on all aspects of violence against women in parliament. Our studies will also include violence against women parliamentary staff, as well as in-depth national and regional analysis. We will continue to collect best practices everywhere and share them within the parliamentary community.