Sexual harassment of female MPs widespread, report says

Sexual harassment and even violence against female parliamentarians is widespread, a report from a global parliamentary grouping suggests.

The study by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) is being released during the group's annual assembly in Geneva.

Just 55 female MPs took part in the survey, but they represent parliaments from across the globe.

Over 80% said they had experienced some form of psychological or sexual harassment or violence.


Rape threats

The report from the IPU comes at a time when US Presidential candidate Donald Trump's comments about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and his alleged sexual harassment of other women over the years, have been making headlines.

It reveals some of the abuse female politicians around the world face while fulfilling their roles in elected positions.

A European member of parliament reported receiving more than 500 threats of rape on Twitter in the space of just four days.

Another, from Asia, received threats of violence to her son, detailing his school, his class, and his age.

Of the women who took part in the survey, 65.5% said they had been the target of insults using sexual language and imagery. The report suggested humiliating remarks from male colleagues were commonplace.

"In my part of the world… there is all sorts of language that is associated with female parliamentarians," says Prof Nkandu Luo, currently minister of gender in Zambia.

She recalls a male member of parliament publicly recounting that he liked to go to parliament because "all the women are there and I can just point and choose which one I want".

The remarks, Professor Luo said, were reported in the press as something amusing and acceptable. "It's the way they demean women."

Meanwhile Senator Salma Ataullahjan of Canada said she at first thought the survey would not be relevant to her. "I said, I'm from Canada, I don't need to take part in this."

But answering the survey questions was, she said, enlightening. "You know as parliamentarians, we go out, we meet people, and I remember this one gentlemen getting up very close to me."

The 'gentlemen' went on to make suggestive comments to Sen Ataullahjan, which at the time she brushed off.

But recounting the incident for the survey brought it home that she had experienced inappropriate, even threatening, behaviour.


Elite 'not immune'

Now, she says, she has become much more open with her male colleagues.

"We have to change the mindset about what is acceptable language, and what is acceptable behaviour and what is not," she says.

The report concludes that the sheer pervasiveness of sexual discrimination, from humiliating language to harassment to real violence is preventing many elected women from carrying out their duties in freedom and safety.

That, according to the IPU's chief, Martin Chungong, is one of the report's most worrying aspects.

"Members of parliament are supposed to be leaders in society," he says. "But we see women members of parliament, the elite, as it were, are not immune.

"So if the elite are victims of sexual aggression, what about the underprivileged?"