Addressing Violence Against Women in Politics

A briefing series inspired by sustainable development goal #5 (SDG5), “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls,” in partnership with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

by Deyala El-Haddad*

On Wednesday, May 16, IFES and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) co-hosted a briefing to discuss global legislation that specifically addresses violence against women in politics (VAWIP), personal experiences from women that have been impacted by VAWIP, existing legislation to address VAWIP and recommendations for future legislation. The U.S. Civil Society Working Group’s new policy brief on VAWIP – co-authored by IFES Senior Gender Specialist Dr. Gabrielle Bardall and Alliance for Peacebuilding Research Associate Emily Myers – was launched at this event.

Key takeaways from the briefing include:

  • VAWIP prevents women from holding leadership positions or freely exercising their political rights.
  • Rates of violence against women are high around the world. One in three women have encountered violent behavior in their lifetime and the vast majority of these women never seek aid. This is clearly a universal challenge. 
  • VAWIP includes in-person or online harassment, physical and verbal abuse, and aggressive behavior toward women active in the political realm, including staffers, voters, journalists, and even members of Congress.
  • Violence against women not only harms the individual victim, but it also undermines democracy and the quality of civic participation because it silences women’s voices in the critical space of policy and public debate. 
  • The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women was the first international treaty to enshrine the right for women to live a life that is free of violence in both the public and private spheres. The convention provided guidelines for the adoption of laws and policies on prevention, punishment and the eradication of violence against women in the States Party. This was the first convention with the most ratifications by the members of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) 32 state parties.
  • The Inter-American Model Law on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women in Political Life serves as a legal basis and provides states with the necessary legal framework to ensure the right of women to political lives free from violence and thus advances harmonization of national legal systems with the provisions established in the convention.
  • Policy and legislation are important tools to promote gender equality. However, there are still major gaps in domestic and international legal frameworks.
  • VAWIP is integrally connected to the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda because it inhibits women from participating in democratic transitions and consolidation, and lack of women’s participation undermines electoral integrity, sustainable democracy and peace. The WPS Act calls for a national strategy on WPS and legally obligates the current administration to satisfy the policy objectives outlined within it. In view of WPS Act obligations and to ensure that VAWIP is fully addressed, Dr. Bardall recommends five key actions:
    • Prioritize the prevention of and response to VAWIP in U.S. foreign policy by integrating it into key policies.
    • Develop and introduce targeted legislation.
    • Dedicate adequate resources to preventing VAWIP and protecting women against it.
    • Systematically integrate and coordinate VAWIP prevention and mitigation efforts into foreign assistance programs, including diplomatic efforts and development programs to promote women’s safety.
    • Ensure gendered monitoring and evaluation of U.S. foreign policy and legislation. Understanding the problem will help establish future solutions.

The event featured remarks by Michael Svetlik, vice president of programs at IFES, and was moderated by Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, president of Women in International Security. Panelists included Dr. Bardall; Dr. Jeni Klugman, managing director at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program; Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, technical secretary of the OAS; and Crystal Patterson, government and politics outreach manager at Facebook.

The discussion was the third installment of a briefing series organized by IFES exploring each element of SDG5. Previous panel topics include “Violence Against Women in the Workplace” and "Ending All Forms of Discrimination Against All Women and Girls Everywhere."

The next briefing will take place on July 18, 2018, discussing “Ending Harmful Practices.” Contact esidell@ifes.org for more information.

*Deyala El-Haddad is an administrative coordinator at IFES.