On 23 November 2018, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) launched a new initative to counter sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliaments, #NotInMyParliament.
At a ceremony in Helsinki, during a meeting of the Assembly’s Standing Committee, parliamentarians from Council of Europe member States pledged to take action in their national parliaments to eradicate such behaviour.
“Our Assembly must send a loud and clear message that this behaviour is simply unacceptable,” said PACE President Liliane Maury Pasquier, who was at the origin of the initiative, launched just ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November).
PACE’s action follows the recent publication of a joint regional study by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) which revealed alarming levels of sexism, harassment and violence against women in national parliaments.
In confidential interviews, 123 women from 45 European countries – including 81 parliamentarians and 42 parliamentary staff – testified to their experiences of psychological, sexual, physical or economic abuse linked to their parliamentary work. They also spoke about the possible causes of such abuse, its effect on their lives, and ways to prevent such behaviour in the future.
Among other things, the study showed that:
“The #MeToo movement has not spared the world of politics,” said Ms Maury Pasquier. “On the contrary, sexism, harassment and violence against women are far too common in Europe’s parliamentary environment. The figures shown by this study are simply unacceptable.”
The President, together with the IPU President, has sent the study to the Speakers of all member States of the Council of Europe inviting them to follow its recommendations. She also suggested that the initiative could expand beyond the parliamentary world to mobilise a maximum number of people: “Everyone can adapt this hashtag to their own situation, for example #NotInMyTown, #NotInMyUniversity, #NotInMyTeam.”
“In a democracy, the parliament must be an exemplary institution, and a place where women and men can work on an equal footing, with respect and security. This is important not only for the efficiency of the institution, but also for the image of the parliament in the public eye. I count on you all to join in this common effort – to say NO to intimidation, sexist behaviour, harassment and gender violence”, she added.
The Assembly will be arranging a number of events in coming months to press home the message of the initiative.
An interviewee detailed what had happened to one of her colleagues. "An MP was harassing an assistant. 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 study found that few women speak out against the abuse. Only 23.5 percent of women MPs and 6 percent of women members of parliamentary staff who had been sexually harassed reported the incident. Several of the interviewees deplored the fact that there is no mechanism in their parliament to report cases of harassment or violence.
The Presidents of PACE and the IPU decided to send the study to all Speakers of Parliament of the 47 member States of the Council of Europe, inviting them to take the necessary measures.