Almost half of women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault, according to a global survey conducted ahead of a summit on increasing women’s political participation.
As women politicians from more than 20 countries meet in London on Monday to agree a common code of conduct in a bid to protect women in politics, 44% of those surveyed said they had faced abuse or violence.
An international report for the conference identified the difficulties facing women, which at their most extreme included physical threats in Sri Lanka, where one woman candidate was abducted and another detained, and Ghana, one of Africa’s democratic success stories, where women candidates have been beaten and others had their property destroyed.
But most women reported psychological rather than physical abuse: a daily ritual of sexism and misogyny, sometimes from family members as well as from the community and political colleagues.
The conference – billed as the first ever attempt to unite women from democracies around the world – will see politicians and activists set out to identify practical measures to support their female counterparts in a bid to raise the proportion of elected women from its current low level of 23%.
Reports of abuse for women politicians were widespread. The former Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller said she found herself dismissed as illiterate and portrayed as aggressive. Elsewhere, women struggled to get access to finance to enable them to stand for election. Women in most countries reported party structures that were inherently sexist.
The report recommends a joint code of conduct that would cover candidates, officials, party members and elected politicians, with strong sanctions for any breaches. A culture of openness and institutionalised reporting systems should be introduced, and parliaments should develop and enforce systems to protect victims of violence, assault, harassment and bullying. Those found guilty of abuse should be open to suspension or even expulsion from their parliament.
The findings echo the conclusions of a cross-party report from a working group of women MPs convened by the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom. Under the system they proposed, complaints would trigger a confidential inquiry by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, with a tougher range of sanctions for those found to have behaved inappropriately.
On receiving the commissioner’s report, standards committees in the Commons and Lords would be able to recommend the suspension of an MP or peer for a specified period. This could trigger proceedings for the recall of an MP, resulting in an election in their constituency, or the expulsion of a peer.
Its introduction would mark a significant departure from centuries of tradition in which MPs have been answerable in the last resort only to their voters.
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