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Harassment: parliamentarians urged to ‘lead by example’

Sexual violence and harassment in parliaments is not a woman’s issue alone, Storting President Tona Wilhelmsen Trøen has told fellow parliamentary Speakers in Strasbourg, but constitutes “a threat to democracy” which must be taken seriously by both women and men.

Presenting the third and last theme of the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament, on how national legislatures can combat the harassment of female politicians, she urged parliamentarians to “lead by example” in their relations with others, fostering a culture which enabled the full political participation of all.

“As elected officials, we carry a great responsibility on our shoulders. All that we do is dependent on the trust of our electorates,” she pointed out. “We must lead by example, and not misuse the powers entrusted to us […]. We must be especially careful in our relations with others, be they staff members, constituents or party colleagues.”

The President said the results of a joint PACE-IPU study into levels of abuse and harassment in European parliaments were “shocking”, and pledged that her parliament would soon be conducting a survey of MPs and staff to establish the extent of the problem.

She also warmly commended the #NotInMyParliament initiative launched by PACE President Liliane Maury Pasquier: “It is a great example of how to build awareness, and a clear signal to all that we do not accept this behaviour.” The Storting would hold a #NotInMyParliament event on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to raise awareness among MPs and the public on this issue, she said.

In a second address on this theme, the author and co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign Michael Kaufman appealed to men in particular to become involved in what he called the “gender equality revolution” which is transforming behaviour in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“If we want our Parliaments – and all our workplaces – to be places where women are equally represented, belong and are welcome, and are equally valued, we must work hard to end all forms of sexual harassment,” he said. “Not just the most blatant forms of harassment that make headlines, but the drip-drip-drip of unwanted touching, unwanted comments, unwanted looks, unwanted invitations, unwanted jokes.”

Such changes would benefit not just women but men too, said Mr Kaufman, pointing to the pressure of expectations on men to live up to outdated gender stereotypes.