Around the world, women politicians face shocking levels of violence and abuse

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Moya Crockett
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As politicians gather in London to discuss how to tackle violence against women in politics, a new global survey highlights the extent of the problem. 

Almost half of women politicians have faced violence or serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault, according to new research.

Women politicians from more than 20 countries were surveyed about their experiences ahead of an international summit in London on 19 and 20 March. Some 44% said that they had been subjected to abuse or violence, The Guardian reports, with many saying that psychological abuse – from political colleagues, the community and even family members – was a daily factor of their professional lives.

The London conference, titled Stop Violence Against Women in Politics, was organised by the seven political parties in the House of Commons and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Over the course of two days, politicians were due to discuss how women’s political participation could be increased around the world, and agree upon a code of conduct to help protect women from abuse in politics.

A report produced for the summit found that women politicians faced unique levels of abuse. Women were subjected to extreme physical threats when they tried to enter politics in Sri Lanka: one woman candidate reported being abducted and another detained. In Ghana, women candidates said they had been beaten and had their property destroyed.

However, most of the women reported psychological rather than physical abuse. The former Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (pictured above) said she had been frequently portrayed as illiterate and aggressive, while other women said they found it difficult to get campaign funding and had to fight against inherently sexist party structures. 

The Stop Violence Against Women in Politics summit was organised by the seven political parties in the House of Commons 

The report recommends the implementation of an international code of conduct that would apply to candidates, officials, party members and elected politicians. It also says that there should be an improved culture of openness in politics, and that parliaments should develop and enforce systems to protect victims of violence, assault, harassment or bullying – with strict sanctions and even possible expulsions for those found guilty of abuse.

Writing in The Times ahead of the summit, Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts drew a connection between the abuse faced by female politicians around the world today and the abuse endured by the suffragettes as they fought for the right to vote.

The suffragettes, said Saville-Roberts, “were ridiculed and physically attacked for daring to suggest that their opinions on matters of significance were equal to those of men. ‘You set of sickening fools’ was the message on a postcard sent to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. ‘Why don’t you drown yourselves out of the way?’”

She continued: “The fight for the right to vote was won a hundred years ago, but the societal attitudes, the gender conditioning and the abuse that surrounded the campaign for women’s suffrage are still with us in the 21st century.”

MP Liz Saville-Roberts compared the abuse faced by women politicians today to that experienced by suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst 

The survey report was released less than a week after the publication of research into the online abuse of female political leaders in the UK, South Africa and Chile.

The extensive study by non-government organisation Atalanta found that women politicians were three times more likely than their male counterparts to receive sexist comments online. 

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May received three times as many comments on her physical appearance as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was attacked predominantly for his political outlook and policies.

“Sexism and abuse are everyday occurrences for many female politicians who are active online,” said Atalanta founder Eva Barboni. “This takes a heavy toll on both the politicians themselves and on our broader democratic debate, particularly when it escalates from harassment to threats.”

Images: Getty Images / Rex Features


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Moya Crockett

Moya is Contributing Women’s Editor at and Deputy Editor of Stylist Loves, Stylist's daily email newsletter.