VAWIE Framework Address Unique Nature of Gender-Based Election Violence
On August 21, 2017, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Ambar Zobairi gave a key note speech on violence against women in elections. Her speech was part of a ceremony in Mexico City during which the National Electoral Institute received the presidency of the Mexican Observatory of Women´s Political Participation from the Electoral Court of the Federal Judicial Branch.
Addressing an audience consisting of political party members, civil society organizations, and government workers, Zobairi noted that violence against women in elections is a threat to the integrity of the electoral process and can affect women’s participation in a variety of stakeholder roles such as voters, candidates, election officials, activists, and political party leaders. She cited anecdotal examples IFES has collected from around the world, such as the growing usage of online harassment against women candidates in countries like Kenya and the use of verbal and physical sexual harassment against women who attended public demonstrations in Bangladesh.
Zobairi pointed out that that neither the current violence against women definition nor the current electoral violence framework captures violence against women in elections, and women’s perspectives on electoral violence remain inadequately studied. As a result, IFES has developed the Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWIE) Framework to specifically identify and address the unique issues related to gender-based election violence throughout the election cycle – pre-election, during the election and post-election. Zobairi underscored the fact that IFES’ VAWIE Framework is a survivor-centric framework in which women are viewed not as victims but as survivors of violence, women who have lived through affliction and, yet, are resilient.
Zobairi delved into the five key insights that VAWIE research has yielded, which have helped guide the development of IFES’ framework: There is a lack of knowledge and data about violence against women in elections; there is a gender bias in current data collection, research and programming efforts related to electoral violence; women experience different types of violence in different spaces than men; there is often an existing relationship between perpetrator and survivor when women experience violence in elections; and there is a lack of programming to address violence against women.
Zobairi illustrated the VAWIE findings by providing an example of violence against women in elections that may be missed or is not captured in existing frameworks. She pointed out that we probably agree that if a party supporter intimidates a female poll worker to stuff the ballot box this constitutes electoral violence. But what happens when that female poll worker goes home one evening and her husband demands that she stuffs the ballot box for his preferred party otherwise he will divorce her?
We may agree that this is election violence too, but in current approaches and frameworks this type of violence would not be counted because: it is happening in a private space, and women often experience violence in different spaces than men; the type of violence is a form of intimidation and psychological abuse and this illustrates that the existing relationship between the perpetrator and survivor, that of husband and wife, plays a large factor; and since there is no witness to verify the incident, it plays into the gender bias of current data collection efforts, and is therefore not being captured.
Zobairi then explained that it is exactly to capture such nuanced instances that IFES has developed its VAWIE framework. Besides the research, the framework includes a number of important tools including a typology which combines definitions and approaches to gender-based violence with definitions of violence. It also includes a rigorous assessment methodology, which looks at root causes and triggers of violence while providing an understanding of the risk of violence against women in elections in any given context by examining the status of women in their society, women’s access to the election process, trends in violence against women in elections and responses to violence against women in the election arena. The framework also includes a monitoring methodology and program recommendations which identify priorities for action.
You can learn more about IFES’ VAWIE framework here.