Africa: Sexism, Violence Rife for Women in African Parliaments, Says Study

The Ugandan Women's Network protest against sexual harassment (file photo).
23 November 2021

Geneva — Sexism, harassment and violence against women permeate parliaments across Africa, according to a new study published Tuesday.

The study reveals that on average eight of every 10 women parliamentarians interviewed has experienced psychological violence in their legislature.

Released ahead of this year's 16 Days of Activism  against Gender-Based Violence campaign, the study was carried out by the African Parliamentary Union (APU) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organization of national parliaments.

The Geneva-based IPU said the study is the second in its regional studies, following a 2018 report on European parliaments.

The African study found that 67 percent of African woman parliamentarians have been subjected to sexist behaviour or remarks, while 42 percent have received threats of death, rape, beating or abduction, usually online.

"The conclusions reveal an insidious epidemic of sexism in parliaments in Africa," said IPU P resident Duarte Pacheco, a parliamentarian from Portugal. "Sexism and gender-based violence against women threatens parliaments as it deters young women from entering 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."

40 per cent harassed

The report found that 40 percent of African female legislators have been sexually harassed, and 23 percent have endured physical violence.

Most of the sexism, harassment or violence takes place on the premises of parliament itself, says the IPU. This was the finding in 83 percent of acts of sexual harassment, 78 percent of incidents of sexist behaviour, and 40 percent of cases of physical violence reported by female parliamentarians.

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

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

The IPU/APU study used 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 five percent of the total number of women MPs on the continent. There are 2,834 women MPs in Africa, corresponding to about 23 percent of the total, according to 2020 IPU figures.

Worldwide problem

Previous IPU studies, together with the new African survey, show that women lawmakers worldwide suffer similar levels of harassment and sexism.

However, with a prevalence of 39 percent, the sexual violence level against women parliamentarians in Africa is considerably higher than in European parliaments (14 percentage points higher) and compared with global figures (17 percentage points higher), said the IPU.

The report cites positive progress in several parliaments, such as Tunisia's 2017 law on violence against women, that recognizes political violence as abuse against women.

Uganda's Parliament has a 2019 Human Resource Policy Manual that defines sexual harassment, giving physical and verbal examples. In 2019 Sierra Leone's Parliament implemented a gender policy with a broad definition of workplace sexual harassment that includes inappropriate behaviour.

South Africa's parliament put in place a sexual harassment policy in 2006 applicable to all parliamentary employees and assistants.

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