Threats of death, rape or beating had been sent to almost half of female politicians and parliamentary workers from across Europe who were interviewed for a new study. 

Some 85 per cent of the women MPs questioned, said they had suffered from psychological violence in parliament. 

The study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) also concluded that female MPs under the age of 40 were more likely to experience harassment, according to the research. However, female parliamentary staff were found to have experienced more sexual violence than female MPs. 

The majority of parliaments do not have mechanisms in place which allow women to speak out, the research found. 

The findings were based on in depth interviews with 123 women from 45 European countries. They included 81 MPs and 42 parliamentary staff members. 

Just under half (47 per cent) of respondents said they had received threats of death, rape or beating. This included threats to kidnap or kill their children.

In total, 68 per cent said they had been subject to sexist comments which relate to their physical appearance and gender role stereotypes. A further 25 per cent said they had endured sexual violence.

“Unfortunately, the study points to a sad reality. The #MeToo movement has not spared the world of politics. As long as inequality between women and men persists, no woman will be safe from violence and harassment,” Liliane Maury Pasquier, PACE President, said. “We, women and men in politics, do however have a lever that can turn us into movers of change: the Istanbul Convention – a legal instrument aimed at preventing, protecting, prosecuting and, above all, breaking the sexist pattern.”

IPU President, Gabriela Cuevas, added: “As a woman MP myself, I am deeply troubled by these results that show that the problem of sexual harassment in parliaments is even worse than we thought. Not only is harassment a severe infringement of women’s rights, it’s also bad for democracy. We need to acknowledge the perverse effect that this can have on the freedom of action of women MPs.”

Social media was found to be the most commonly used medium for threats and harassment, with 58 per cent of those surveyed saying they had been targeted via networks like Facebook and Twitter

The report comes after a 2016 study by the IPU which found gender-based harassment in European parliaments was widespread. That research concluded that physical, sexual and psychological violence against female MPs was undermining democracy and efforts to end gender inequality.

The new research is the first in a series of IPU regional studies striving to construct a global portrait of sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliaments.

The new research found younger female MPs experienced higher incidences of degrading treatment and abuse in the media and on social networks, as well as sexual harassment.

It also showed parliamentary staff were more likely to face abuse than MPs. Just over 40 per cent of female parliamentary staff members interviewed said that they had experienced sexual violence, compared with 25 per cent of female MPs.

The report said this indicated they were “more vulnerable” than female MPs and “power relations also play a part.”

Female MPs who either work or are active in gender equality or violence against women were often singled out for attack, the report found. 

One interviewee said one of her colleagues experienced harassment from an MP.

“An MP was harassing an assistant,” she said. “On a business trip, he tried to force his way into her room. He would send her texts with sexual connotations and threatened her with dismissal if she didn’t comply. She reported him. However, she was the one who had to quit, while he kept his job. And what’s more, he’s still an MP.”

The research found few women chose to speak out against the abuse they endured. Only 23.5 per cent of MPs and 6 per cent of female members of parliamentary staff who had been sexually harassed had reported the incident. Several of those interviewed criticised the fact there were no formal, proper mechanisms for reporting harassment or violence.

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