Female Lawmakers Everywhere Face Sexism and Threats, Study Finds

Women in Parliaments around the world routinely experience threats, intimidation and sexist put-downs, according to a study of female lawmakers made public on Wednesday.

“Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians are real and widespread,” according to the study, which was made public by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization of parliamentary bodies worldwide, at its annual assembly.

Psychological violence intended to cause fear or distress was particularly prevalent, the study said, concluding that “the phenomenon knows no boundaries and exists to different degrees in every country.”

Only 55 women took part in the study, but they came from Parliaments in 39 countries on five continents.

More than 20 of the women said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction, directed at them and sometimes their families. One-fifth of those questioned said they had been slapped, pushed, hit or targeted by a thrown object.

Social media was cited by several as their tormentors’ weapon of choice.

“Once, over a period of four days, I received 500 threats of rape on Twitter,” a European lawmaker, who was not identified in the study, recounted.

Another said that a threat to kidnap her son included such details as his age and the school he was attending.

Some of the messages disseminated through social media included “go ahead and kill her,” an Asian member of Parliament said in the study.

Arifa Khalid, a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, said she had faced threats of abduction and received messages with photographs of weapons. “They know where you are; it can be very scary,” she said in an interview in Geneva.

Eighty percent of the women said they had faced hostile, demeaning or sexist comments and gestures aimed at discouraging or distressing them, or shaking their confidence.

“We are better because we are men — we can deliver,” was the attitude adopted by the male politicians who challenged the veteran Zambian politician Nkandu Luo for her seat in Parliament, targeting her with multiple threats and bad language. “They had this sense of entitlement. I think they were really surprised when I was elected,” she recalled.

“When men are losing they can’t take it, they become more aggressive,” she added.

Derogatory comments did not just come from men, said Ms. Luo, who has served as a cabinet minister six times and now holds the higher education portfolio. Women, too, she said, aimed barbed remarks at female politicians about “bottom power,” implying they could only achieve political office by bestowing sexual favors.

Such sexism and sexual innuendo were global, the study found. “A chest like that must produce a lot of milk,” an African politician said she was told.

The European lawmaker said she was advised, “You would be even better in a porn movie.”

Monica Green, a Swedish lawmaker, recalled the advice she received from a well-meaning older male colleague in the early days of her 22-year political career: “Wear low-cut tops and short dresses — people will listen to you more.”

“The perception of many men is that if women get into an environment dominated by men, it’s for sex and that women need to use their bodies for political success,” said Juana Vicente, a Parliament member in the Dominican Republic for 10 years and the only woman on the governing party’s six-member central committee.

“I have to do four times the work of a man to demonstrate who I am,” said Ms. Vicente, who trained as an obstetrician and a lawyer but faces constant remarks about her hair, wardrobe and family relationships. “You need to be tougher, to really fight for your position, or they will crush you.”

Still, she says her determination and tenacity had earned her the support and respect of many men as well as women. They admire her courage, Ms. Vicente remarked. They say she is as brave as a man.

|The New York Times

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