Sexism, harassment and violence against women are widespread in European parliaments, according to a study published Tuesday.
The findings in the study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are based on interviews with 123 women – 81 MPs and 42 parliamentary staff members – from 45 European countries. While the sample size was relatively small, the findings offer a snapshot into a work culture involving threats of violence, psychological harassment and sexual harassment, among other offenses.
Of the women interviewed, 47% said they had received threats of death, rape or beating and 68% said they had been the target of sexist comments relating to their appearance and gender stereotypes, while 25% said they had experienced sexual violence.
Some 85% of female MPs surveyed said they had suffered psychological violence in parliament.
The study pointed out that the majority of parliaments didn’t have mechanisms for women to speak out.
“The #MeToo movement has not spared the world of politics. As long as inequality between women and men persists, no woman will be safe from violence and harassment,” said Liliane Maury Pasquier, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
“We, women and men in politics, do however have a lever that can turn us into movers of change: the Istanbul Convention – a legal instrument aimed at preventing, protecting, prosecuting and, above all, breaking the sexist pattern.”
Social media was the most commonly used medium for threats and harassment, with 58% of respondents saying they had been targeted.
Younger women more vulnerable
The study found that female MPs under 40 and female parliamentary staff were more vulnerable to abuse.
Younger MPs had higher incidences of degrading treatment and abuse in the media and on social networks, as well as sexual harassment.
Parliamentary staff were more likely to face abuse than MPs, the study showed. Some 40.5% of female parliamentary staff members interviewed said that they had experienced sexual violence, compared with 25% for female MPs, suggesting “power relations also play a part.” Female MPs working or active in gender equality or violence against women were often singled out for attack, the study found.
“As a woman MP myself, I am deeply troubled by these results that show that the problem of sexual harassment in parliaments is even worse than we thought,” said Inter-Parliamentary Union President Gabriela Cuevas.
“Not only is harassment a severe infringement of women’s rights, it’s also bad for democracy. We need to acknowledge the perverse effect that this can have on the freedom of action of women MPs.”
The study found that few women spoke out against abuse. Only 23.5% of MPs and 6% of female members of parliamentary staff who had been sexually harassed had reported the incident. Several interviewees complained there was no formal mechanism for reporting harassment or violence.