Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians

This Issues Brief presents the results of an IPU study on the experiences of women serving as members of national parliaments – and on the experiences of their parliaments, as institutions.

The study is based on quantitative and qualitative data provided voluntarily by 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries spread over five regions of the world: 18 in Africa, 15 in Europe, 10 in Asia-Pacific, 8 in the Americas and 4 in the Arab world.

They represent all age groups (Table 1). Most belong to a political party (of which 58 per cent are majority parties and 42 per cent opposition parties). Each of these women is unique, as are their personal, professional and political experiences.

They were interviewed about 1) their personal history; 2) their perceptions and experiences with respect to any harassment, intimidation or violence to which they may have been exposed; 3) the reasons for such acts or behaviour and the consequences that may have resulted therefrom; and 4) solutions for the prevention and remediation of such acts. Given the sensitive nature of the issue studied, all of their responses have been treated in strict confidentiality.

The study is also based on data pertaining to policies, structures and mechanisms in place to prevent unacceptable behaviour, sexual harassment and sexist violence in parliamentary chambers. These data came from 42 parliaments (53 chambers): 19 in Europe, 9 in Africa, 9 in Asia-Pacific, 4 in the Americas and 1 in the Arab world.

This information provides a partial overview of what parliaments are currently doing to prevent and combat this phenomenon. Finally, study was informed by an analysis of the available documentation and articles in the press on this subject.

The study focuses on women elected to parliament without, at this stage, comparing their experience with that of their male counterparts or their parliamentary staffs. Nor does the study attempt to compare violence against women in politics with that against women in general, or to compare the experience of women parliamentarians with that of women in other occupations that until recently have been exclusively or predominantly held by men.

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