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Stopping violence against women in politics: time for a new normal

Hungry for good news about politics?

Here’s some: more women than ever before are participating in politics worldwide. It’s a global trend that signals positive outcomes for inclusive governance.

However, as the number of women engaging in political activity has grown, so has the frequency and degree of violent responses to their presence in politics. On March 19-20, the political party offices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy organised an international conference to identify the sources of this violence and construct recommendations to address it.

Cross-party politicians call for a stop to violence against women in politics

Session 7: The role and responsibilities of political parties in tackling violence against politically active women. L-R: Sophie Walker, (Leader Women’s Equality Party), Rt Hon Ian Blackford MP (Westminster Leader, Scottish National Party), Dr Mona Lena Krook, Rutgers Unniversity, Michelle Gildernew MP (Sinn Fein), Naomi Long MLA (Leader, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland) © Andy Aitchison / WFD

 

Uniquely, the conversation was led by political practitioners, including members of parliament, political party leaders, civil society activists and leading academics from more than twenty countries.

The conference produced a rich collection of ideas, experiences, research and recommendations. Initial findings include:

  • The forms of and dynamics behind violence against women in politics are localised but the experience is universal
  • Globally, women pay a higher price for their participation in politics, including having to meet higher standards and facing more personalised forms of scrutiny and criticism
  • Social media platforms are facilitating growing levels of psychological violence as well as physical and sexualised threats
  • As candidates and elected officials, women experience threats and acts of violence from other political party actors as well as from within their own parties
  • Threats and acts of violence tend to be even more pronounced when directed towards women from ethnic minority communities and those facing discrimination linked to disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender reassignment or other factors
  • Police often lack the authority, the ability and/or the desire to respond effectively
  • Political parties must develop clear codes of conduct and take action to discipline members who are involved in acts of violence, whether against candidates and officials from other political parties or against their own
  • Parliaments and other legislative bodies must develop and enforce clear codes of conduct for elected members and senior staff, and must address not only physical and sexualised misconduct but also bullying behaviours
  • Credible, accessible and non-partisan complaints and grievance processes must be available to women in politics, including both elected officials and staff
Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom MP, gives closing remarks at stop violence against women in politics conference

Leader of the House of Commons, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, gives closing remarks at ‘Violence Against Women in Politics’ Conference, 20 March 2018 © Andy Aitchison / WFD

Speakers’ notes and video footage of the sessions are under review and will be used to construct a comprehensive conference report and online learning materials.

Violence is one of the strongest and highest barriers keeping women out of politics. It is vital that this type of violence is not accepted as normal. WFD and the political party offices will continue to engage and lead on this important topic and will work with global partners to help develop localised responses to bring an end to violence against women in politics, and to help create a ‘new normal’.

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