Female leaders facing threats, sexual assault

40 per cent of the women parliamentarians have been sexually harassed and 23 per cent have endured physical violence. [Courtesy]

Many African women parliamentarians continue to face threats, sexual harassment and physical violence while at work.

This is according to a study carried out by the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the African Parliamentary Union (APU) released last week. 

The IPU/APU study is based on confidential interviews with 224 women working in 50 African countries and one sub-regional parliamentary assembly.

A total of 137 women parliamentarians were interviewed, constituting around 5 per cent of the total number of women MPs on the continent.

Findings revealed that 80 per cent of the women parliamentarians interviewed have experienced psychological violence in parliament, while 67 per cent have been subject to sexist behaviour or remarks. 

At least, 42 per cent have received death threats, rape threats, or threats of beating or abduction, usually online.

Further, 40 per cent have been sexually harassed and 23 per cent have endured physical violence.

The majority of the abuse, according to the study, is perpetrated by their male colleagues especially those from rival parties.

The women parliamentarians living with disabilities, women under 40, unmarried women and women from minority groups face a higher incidence of violence.

Only four women have vied for president since independence in Kenya; from left, Wangari Maathai, Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu and Nazlin Omar. [File, Standard]

It was revealed that the majority of the sexism, harassment or violence disclosed in this study took place inside parliament.

In a press release, IPU President Duarte Pacheco said the findings reveal an epidemic of sexism in parliaments in Africa.

He warned that sexism against women threatens young, aspiring women seeking to join politics.

“ In particular, young women who aspire to change the world through politics are at risk of becoming disheartened. We need those young women in parliament for the sake of strong and representative democratic institutions,” Pacheco warned.

APU President Mohamed Ali Houmed said there should be zero tolerance for any form of violence against women in parliaments.

“It is the responsibility of our institutions and all parliamentarians, both men and women, to take urgent action to become more gender-sensitive,” Houmed noted.

IPU Vice-President Adji Diarra Mergane Kanouté called for the transformation and immediate action to make parliament safe spaces for women and men, especially young women.

Female parliamentary staff are also affected by the harassment and abuse after the study revealed that 45 per cent of female parliamentary staff, who were interviewed have experienced sexual harassment at work.

“At least, 69 per cent have experienced psychological violence, and 18 per cent have received requests for sexual favours from their colleagues,” the report revealed.

The comparison between African and European parliaments also indicates that sexual and physical harassment is more prevalent for African women parliamentarians than their European counterparts.

“The level of sexual violence against women parliamentarians in Africa is at 39 per cent which is considerably higher than in European parliaments, which is at 14 percentage points and compared with global figures that stand at 17 percentage points,” the study indicated.