Sexism and violence against women parliamentarians in Africa are ubiquitous, new report reveals

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Zapatos Rojos, or “red shoes”, was a traveling public art installation created by Elina Chauvet, a Mexican artist and architect, in 2009 to denounce violence against women around the world. A new joint report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the African Parliamentary Union documents a pervasive culture of violence against women parliamentarians and staff across Africa. LANPERNAS LAUPUNTOZERO

After four hours of torture, Flora Igoki Terah arrived at Nairobi Women’s Hospital on September 7, 2007, with broken bones, a shaved head and piles of human excrement stuck in her throat. Months before the attack, Terah’s torturers sent her numerous warnings, demanding that she withdraw her candidacy for parliamentary seat in Kenya’s elections that year.

Terah refused and the violence took a deadly turn. Six months after his beating, on March 11, 2008, Terah’s 19-year-old son Mark was murdered, along with his political aspirations. The perpetrators of the two incidents have never been identified or held accountable.

“This child was everything. That’s why I wanted to change in my country, ”Terah, 56, told PassBlue in a telephone interview from Toronto, Canada, where she now lives. “I wanted him to have children who would live in a country they would never regret. I was doing this as a mother.

Although less common, Terah’s experience reveals a pervasive culture of violence experienced by women parliamentarians, or parliamentarians, and women parliamentarians across Africa, according to a recent joint report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or IPU, and of the African Parliamentary Union, or APU. After interviewing 137 women parliamentarians from 50 African countries and one sub-regional parliamentary assembly, the report identified psychological, physical, sexual and economic abuse as the most common forms of intimidation and harassment experienced by participants.

Specifically, 80 percent of female parliamentarians said they had suffered psychological violence, 67 percent had been subjected to gender-based remarks, 42 percent had received death, rape and kidnapping threats, 40 percent had reported sexual harassment and 23 percent experienced physical violence.

The report further found that most of the abuse was instigated by male parliamentarians from rival parties and occurred on and outside the parliamentary precinct and through social media.

In short, Brigitte Filion, the author of the report, called these results to PassBlue “shocking”. Filion is also a consultant based in La Rochelle, France, for the IPU’s Gender Partnership Program, which helps develop gender-sensitive parliaments through research and training.

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Through her work, Filion has identified violence, harassment and bullying as intentional strategies that men use to deter women from pursuing political careers, which in turn hinders the growth and development of democracy everywhere, she declared. “Parliaments are not really safe places for women,” Filion noted. “It is a reality that cannot be denied and which concerns us all.

In October 2018, the IPU published a study, also written by Filion, examining abuses in European parliaments. Compared to the 2021 Africa report, the results suggest that women parliamentarians from all continents share similar experiences. In both reports, MPs polled identified psychological violence as the most common threat in parliament (85 percent of participants in Europe versus 80 percent in Africa).

The slightly higher rate in Europe could be attributed to global disparities in internet access, given that psychological violence can occur online and in person. In 2019, Internet use rates for women in Africa were the lowest in the world at 20%, while Europe had the highest rate for women in the world at 80%.

Among the other three categories of abuse identified in the two reports, Africa reported higher cases of sexual violence (39% vs. 25% in Europe), physical violence (23% vs. 15% in Europe) and economic violence (29% vs. 14 percent). The differences are most likely related to the particular political, economic, social, cultural and religious contexts affecting women parliamentarians at the time of the research. Regions with higher rates of violence overall, whether linked to armed conflict or widespread domestic violence, may make physical and sexual violence acceptable in politics, the report said.

According to a 2020 report from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, women experienced a higher rate of domestic violence in sub-Saharan Africa, at 22 percent, compared to a global average of 18 percent and a European average of 6. percent. . Additionally, since 2018, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) has shown that the highest number of conflict-related sexual violence events have occurred in Africa, followed by South Asia.

Interestingly, incidents of violence, harassment and intimidation in Africa and Europe have increased for women parliamentarians under 40; single or widowed women; women living with a disability; and women from minority groups.

“We also know that women who have feminist political views also attract a lot more abuse,” said Mona Lena Krook, professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. “We have interviews with politicians who will say that this is literally the day they gave a speech in parliament or appeared on a TV show and mentioned a feminist policy issue like gender-based violence or the reproductive rights of women. women, they receive this huge flood of abuse and intimidating phone calls. Krook, who produces a website compiling research on violence against women in politics, told PassBlue she believes these issues affect more women parliamentarians than they think. “The fact that it’s so prevalent really tells us it’s a crisis.”

Like Krook, Veneranda Nyirahirwa, Member of the Rwandan Parliament and Chair of the Bureau of the Committee of Women Parliamentarians of the African Parliamentary Union in Rwanda, underscored the immediate need to address violence against women parliamentarians in Africa. In a Zoom interview with PassBlue, she described the situation as “dangerous”. However, she said change would only be possible when countries and parliaments create legislative reforms that make violence against women a crime and hold perpetrators to account.

In Rwanda – where 61 percent of its deputies are women, currently the highest rate in the world – a constitutional amendment in 2015 banned all forms of discrimination against women, and the law on prevention and the suppression of gender-based violence, or GBV, has been adopted. 2008, inaugurated a zero tolerance policy for gender-based violence and introduced legal sanctions for perpetrators. But based on years of experience, Nyirahirwa said that laws and policies cannot stand on their own. “If there is no political will, laws can be enacted, the institution can be established, but implementation will always be a problem,” she noted.

Along with legislative reform, the November 2021 report calls on parliaments to implement human rights-based training to educate women and men on the effects and outcomes of sexism and harassment. Women parliamentarians interviewed for the study added that they wanted private, off-site counseling services in addition to independent complaints mechanisms designed to protect women from any backlash. But overall, most MPs agree that the solution lies in making men aware of the problem.

Laxman Belbase, global co-director of the MenEngage Alliance, a Washington, DC-based global network that promotes gender equality, told PassBlue in a phone interview that he is noticing a promising shift in the way men and women boys perceive violence against women. “I think there is now a general consensus that violence is not acceptable, whether they are prepared or socialized to think so,” Belbase said. “If men and boys can learn to stop using and accepting violence against women in their immediate surroundings, it will continue to spread” – potentially affecting parliaments around the world.

However, Flora Igoki Terah, who moved to Canada after the murder of her son in 2008, does not see this change happening in Kenya. Today, from afar, she said she was concerned that women are considering running in the 2022 general election in the country, scheduled for August 9.

“I don’t care who wins, but what matters most to me is how many Flores are they going to create? ” she said.


Dawn Clancy is a New York-based journalist who focuses on women’s issues, international conflict and diplomacy. She holds an MA from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Previously, she wrote for the Washington Post and HuffPost.


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