Harassment in parliament unsettlingly common, report finds

harassment in parliament
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A study published this week found acts of violence against women and sexual harassment in parliament were widespread across Europe.

The study, conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), was based on conversations with 81 female Members of Parliament (MPs) and 42 members of parliamentary staff, representing 45 countries across Europe. It is the first in a series of reports to be conducted by the IPU which will build a picture of discrimination against women and sex-based harassment in parliament.

  • 85.2 per cent of female MPs who took part in the study said that while in office they had experienced psychological violence, including intimidation, threats, harassment and stalking;
  • 46.9 per cent had been threatened with rape, physical violence or death;
  • 58.2 per cent had been the target of gender-based online abuse on social networks;
  • 67.9 per cent had been the target of comments relating to their physical appearance or based on gender stereotypes;
  • 24.7 per cent had suffered sexual violence; and
  • 14.8 per cent had suffered physical violence.

Women MPs under 40 and female parliamentary staff were shown to be particularly at risk of abuse, with 69 per cent of incidents reported perpetrated by male MPs. Other perpetrators included members of opposing parties, colleagues from the same party and unaffiliated citizens. 23.5 per cent of female MPs and only six per cent of female staff members had made an official report about harassment in parliament they experienced, with several respondents commenting there was no official mechanism in their parliament to report harassment or abuse.

PACE president Liliane Maury Pasquier said: “Unfortunately, the study points to a sad reality. 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.”

The report comes on the heels of the finding of Dame Laura Cox’s inquiry into harassment in parliament in the UK, which found a widespread culture of abuse, intimidation and bullying directed predominantly towards women. Around 70 per cent of the 200 complainants who spoke to Cox were women, while every perpetrator detailed in the report was male.

The presidents of PACE and the IPU have passed on the results of the study to all Speakers of Parliament and invited them to take the appropriate measures to combat harassment in parliament. The full report includes a number of recommendations to address the widespread issue, including a confidential complaints procedure and disciplinary sanctions for harassers.

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