Violence Against Women in Elections

Publication Date: 
24 Nov 2015

News Type:

Electoral violence can emerge out of post-conflict scenarios, simmering socio-economic, ethnic or religious differences, long-standing rivalries of elaborate patronage networks, or in otherwise stable political situations given the wrong mix of circumstances and opportunity. That is, it is a global problem, and communities from Newark, New Jersey in the U.S. to Kabul in Afghanistan have experienced electoral violence.

The equitable contribution of women in political processes is not only of prime importance in ensuring a balanced representation of the needs and concerns of democratic societies, but it also increases the credibility of political infrastructures. Carving out equitable spaces for women in politics, where they have been historically underrepresented, therefore is a critical step for regimes to achieve gender equity.1 According to a 2012 International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Global Survey of Women’s Organizations conducted in 29 countries across the world, women surveyed cited “cultural beliefs/social attitudes/patriarchal mentality” as the number one factor obstructing advancement in women’s participation.2

In addition to direct physical violence experienced at home and in public that women experience as a matter of course,3 the centralized nature of political structures themselves, which privileges masculinity and the role of men as political (and economic) decision-makers, limits women’s opportunities to participate in formal governance structures.4

IFES is concerned about the gendering of violence in elections. Women are targeted in election violence at higher rates than male counterparts, especially as political candidates. In many incidents it is clear that women are often being targeted not necessarily related to their political actions or affiliations, but simply because they are women.

Additionally, for every public violent incident known and recorded, there are more incidents happening behind closes doors and in private, with scant documentation and, worse, without adequate services to respond to survivors’ needs and due process for perpetrators. These private incidents, as well as more public incidents, no doubt discourage and prevent women from participating in the electoral process.

A systematic and authoritative effort must be championed to reduce and prevent violence against women in elections. When public and private violence and intimidation in elections does occur, resources must be available to help women access formal justice mechanisms as well as support informal efforts to resolve conflict, especially in local communities. The fear of participation for all people must be taken out of politics.

IFES recognizes that violence against women in elections can affect women’s participation in the electoral process as voters, candidates, election officials, activists and political party leaders, and therefore threatens the integrity of the electoral process, as well as the commitment of governments to a free, fair and inclusive democratic process. IFES is currently working to bolster existing knowledge by developing an analytical framework reflecting gender differences through its Violence Against Women in Elections project. The project is working to enhance knowledge and improve analysis in relation to gender, development and conflict through design of a robust framework for assessment and documentation of women’s experiences with electoral violence; and to enhance programming that addresses the impacts of electoral violence on women through sharing the framework and recommendations to improve program design.

The framework currently being developed is transforming research findings from desk review and field-based research with local partners in Bangladesh and Kenya into a typology for electoral violence that illustrate its range of manifestations as experienced by women and men. As the project is progressing, IFES has already determined through its research and outreach that violence against women in elections and politics ranges from societal and familial to economic to political threats in forms such as harassment, intimidation, and physical and sexual abuse. These threats happen in the public sphere, especially for women as candidates, and in the private sphere for women who want to vote or otherwise be politically engaged. Based on this information, IFES is also developing tools for better data collection and programming recommendations for designing programs that can protect and empower women’s political and electoral participation through the mitigation and prevention of violence.

IFES looks forward to sharing this information broadly with democracy and governance practitioners and partners, as well as colleagues working on gender-based violence and violence against women on the ground.


1See United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2000, p. 2. Available at>, (viewed on November 6, 2012).
2These three phrases were listed as one choice among many in a “check all that apply” question on the IFES Global Survey of Women’s Organizations conducted in late 2012 and early 2013. Data and analysis is available upon request.
3See The World's Women: Trends and Statistics, UN, 2010. Available at (viewed on April 1, 2013). See also Human Trafficking: The Facts, UN.GIFT, 2007. Available at (viewed on December 23, 2013). Also see Sourcebook on Violence against Women, (2nd edition), Claire M. Renzetti and Jeffrey L. Edleson & Raquel Kennedy Bergen (eds), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011.
4See, for example, Farzana Bari, “Women’s Political Participation: Issues and Challenges: Expert Group Meeting Report,” Division for the Advancement of Women, UN, November 8-11, 2005, p.2. Available at (viewed on March 31, 2013); Julie Mertus, Malathi De Alwais, and Tazreena Sajjad, “Women and Peace Processes,” in Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures, Carol Cohn (ed), Malden, MA: Polity, 2012, pp. 169-193; Bryan M. Sims, “Women in Transition : A Critical Analysis of Women’s Civic and Political Participation in Liberia,” IDASA, 2012. Available at: (viewed on April 1, 2013).