June 16, 2017 @ 10:30 – June 16, 2017 @ 12:00
Inter-Parliamentary Union
5 chemin du Pommier
in Geneva 1218


Geneva, June 16, 2017



The Purpose:
The purpose of this discussion is to continue to build the consensus on tackling violence against politically active women. Led by its Chairman, former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and its partners launched the #NotTheCost campaign and a global call to action in New York in March 2016. As part of this initiative, NDI has gathered examples of a range of ‘opportunities for action’ from a number of different perspectives and sectors, to address the phenomenon of violence against women in politics. In this context, Secretary Albright asked the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (SRVAW), HE Dr. Dubravka Šimonović, to consider the feasibility of introducing a focus on violence against politically active women within her thematic annual reports. This would raise the issue at the global level and begin a process of documentation that would support a change in norms and standards. To this end, NDI and Liberal International have presented joint statements on the issue at both the 32nd and 33rd sessions of the Human Rights Council – a written and an oral statement respectively.

There is also an urgent need to continue to draw the lines and document the issue, monitor it and design efficient solutions to eliminate it. In October 2016, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) published a first study specifically devoted to sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians. It provides data and evidence confirming that this phenomenon is very real and widespread.

The June 2017 event, is the second in a series of discussions held in Geneva, drawing together the SRVAW, other relevant special rapporteurs and mandate holders, key stakeholders and allies in the United Nations, whose engagement is necessary to drive the campaign forward. The objective is to achieve an integrated framework for action at the global level by the appropriate UN bodies and organizations for the reporting of violence against women in politics. We are privileged to have Her Excellency Ambassador Veronika Bard, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN in Geneva and Chair of the International Gender Champions Network, and Her Excellency Ambassador Yvette Stevens, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the UN in Geneva and member of the International Gender Champions Network, as co-sponsors of this timely event. In addition, the IPU Secretary General, Martin Chungong, is himself a member of the International Gender Champion Network. This network provides a valuable space to raise awareness on and gain commitment to addressing the need to lift all barriers to women’s political empowerment including addressing discrimination and VAW. The co-hosts of the discussion, NDI and IPU, will present suggestions on how this might be done, including doing more to leverage “regular consultations” between various stakeholders including UN bodies, governments, parliaments, civil society organizations etc.


Background on the issue:

All violence against women is an affront to the human rights of women and their ability to live in dignity with full respect for their physical integrity, and must be stopped. Violence against politically-active women has two important further impacts: it is a major barrier to women’s political participation and thus denies women their civil and political right to be meaningfully engaged in the decision-making that affects them; and, as it hinders the participation of half of the world’s population, it also undermines the integrity of democratic practice and governance. Over the last few decades, gender equality in political life and public offices has grown substantially, bringing with it a host of positive effects for women, democracy and society. However, as more women have emerged as elected leaders, activists, officials and voters, they have encountered a backlash characterized by increasing levels of harassment, psychological abuse – in person and increasingly online - physical and sexual assault.

This violence against women in the political realm fits with the internationally agreed definitions of violence against women. Indeed the international day that marks the world’s commitment to eliminate violence against women commemorates an act of political violence against women – the 1960 assassination of the Mirabal Sisters under the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. Yet, today, violence against politically active women continues to occur and goes largely uncounted. This violence targets women because of their gender, can be gendered in its form, and its impact is to discourage all women from political activity. Women are often told that this violence must be accepted as “the cost of doing politics” – it is not. In fact, it costs politics the sustainable and responsive democratic governance that an inclusive political space can create.

The IPU study’s findings confirm that sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians are very real and widespread. They suggest that the phenomenon knows no boundaries and exists to varying degrees in every country, affecting a significant number of women parliamentarians. The results show that over 81.8 % of the respondents reported having experienced some form of psychological violence. In all, 44.4 % of those surveyed said they had received threats of rape, beatings, kidnapping or death. In total, 65% of the respondents had been subjected to disparaging sexist remarks focusing on their appearance, marital status or private life, the social role expected of women or their sexual morality. The prevalence of other forms of violence is also troubling, with sexual harassment standing at 20% and physical violence at 25.5%.

The study also shows, however, that once the phenomenon is publicized and recognized, solutions either exist or can be identified and devised. It calls upon parliaments to define and apply robust policies and mechanisms to deter such behavior and create a conducive environment for women, including women in politics, to report and lodge complaints against all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence. These measures should also cover new forms of violence, particularly online threats and other forms of cyber-violence.

Building the global consensus:
Recognizing the breadth of the alliance needed to sustain this global campaign, NDI continues to work closely with key partners such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), UNWomen, the Organization of American States, International IDEA, the International Federation for Electoral Systems and Liberal International.

For the June 2017 event, NDI has partnered with IPU as a co-host for the event and deliberately reached out to the International Gender Champions’ Network in Geneva, for its support.

Some of the actions taken over the last year include:

  • NDI has launched its #NotTheCost Incident Form (available online in 4 languages), and program guidance on addressing violence against politically active women through democracy assistance programs. We have also published a toolkit, manual and website for citizen observer groups on violence against women during elections, and we are currently working on pilot programs to address violence against women in political parties and on digital platforms.
  • The Inter-Parliamentary Union presented the findings from its research on Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians in October 2016, with over 80% of the respondents reporting they had experienced psychological violence and 44.4% having received threats of death, rape, beatings or kidnapping.
  • New legislative action has been brought forward such as Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s bill against the non-consensual distribution of intimate photographs or films – a tactic which we know is often used against women in politics. Bolivia adopted in 2012 a specific law on political harassment and violence against women. In Canada, a new Code of Conduct was recently adopted on preventing and addressing sexual harassment between Members of the House of Commons.
  • UN Women continues its leadership role in the development of indicators to track and report on the political empowerment elements of SDG5. Part of their current focus is to map the landscape of women in subnational and local government around the world.
  • Last month at Rutgers University, Professor Mona-Lena Krook, convened the largest international conference on the issue and brought women in politics, academics, researchers and practitioners together to share knowledge and find ways in which we can continue to build new partnerships to support women’s political leadership.


For more information on the event in Geneva on 16th June, or on the #NotTheCost campaign, please contact: Katarina O’Regan at NDI. koregan@ndi.org