Almost 50 per cent of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina experience some form of violence by the time they turn 15. However, numbers relating to violence against politically active women are harder to come by.
As part of a three-year programme (2018–2021), Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) prepared a landmark survey – the first dedicated study in country – on Violence Against Women in Politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also explores gender-based pressures faced by women politicians.
The scale of the problem
60 per cent of the 83 participants surveyed revealed they experienced some form of violence over the course of their engagement in politics. Psychological violence – including misogynistic verbal attacks, online and sexual harassment – is the most prevalent form reported by women.
Over 95 per cent of the respondents think that violence against women in politics most commonly takes the form of verbal and emotional abuse. More shockingly, 66 per cent of the respondents to our survey consider that violence against women in politics is perceived as a normal occurrence in politics.
The fact that many respondents (almost 70 percent) reported a peak in violence towards them during elections shows the highly political nature of intimidation, harassment and violence towards women seeking political office, and how it can be used as a barrier to stop them standing altogether.
(Photo: Discussing challenges to women’s political participation at a WFD-organised workshop in Bosnia and Herzegovina.)
Online abuse – from social media networks – was overwhelmingly reported as the most common form of violence and well over half of respondents reported that this intimidation takes place by members of opposing political parties. Shockingly, this abuse can come from within the same political party as the women candidate, with 47 per cent experiencing this.
Violence as a barrier to participation
Globally, women pay a higher price for their political participation than men. This price takes different forms, from higher expectations to personalised and sexualised forms of questioning and criticism. Research – including WFD’s own – reveals violence as one of the biggest obstacles to women’s active engagement in politics.
Violence against women in politics has an impact on individuals, but it also has broader consequences. By reinforcing traditional stereotypes and gendered female roles, women are excluded and discouraged from engaging in politics. This has a knock-on effect for society as a whole. Women’s political leadership delivers progress in policy areas vital for economic growth and development, such as health, education and infrastructure. Excluding them from the political process is bad for everyone.
As the first of its kind, the study is providing baseline data to inform more detailed research into the problem of violence against women in politics. It is hoped this will lead to more comprehensive policies, programmes, and activities that prevent and supress this form of violence against women.
In the coming two years, WFD-Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue supporting women in politics through dedicated training and peer-to-peer support through a mentorship programme that connects more experienced women with younger ones who are starting their political careers.