Commonwealth MPs Call for an End of Abuse Towards Female Members of Parliament at 72nd Westminster Seminar

Published 14 March 2024

27 Parliamentarians from 12 Commonwealth Nations called for the end of abuse towards female politicians, highlighting this as a global issue and as a form of gender-based violence.

Bearing signs which read “threatening, intimidating, harassing or bullying an MP due to their gender are all forms of gender-based violence”, parliamentarians gathered in Parliament’s New Palace Yard raise awareness of the disproportionate levels of violence directed toward female members of parliament.

Their shared international concerns around violence toward female parliamentarians come as attention in the UK parliament has become increasingly focused on the safety of MPs in recent weeks and shortly after a cross-party call, championed by senior Labour and Conservative MPs Harriet Harman and Dame Maria Miller (Chair of CPA UK), for the upcoming election to have a “zero-tolerance approach to misogyny”.

The parliamentarians decided to take a stand against gender-based violence after attending a session on online abuse and equal right to political participation at the 72nd Westminster Seminar, delivered by the UK Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA UK).

The Westminster Seminar is CPA UK’s flagship annual programme, which brings together parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to share learning and discuss democratic practices, procedure and parliamentary accountability.

The parliamentarians explored the impacts of online attacks against MPs. They noted the scale of abuse directed at women MPs as well as the often sexually explicit and gender-specific nature of the abuse. Delegates considered the threat this poses to representation and gender-balance in parliaments around the world; Australian MP Jenny Leong added: “we need to adapt the security apparatus accordingly to build inclusive parliaments”.

Given the scale of psychological violence, which a 2016 IPU report revealed was experienced by as many “4 out of 5 women MPs across the world”, delegates noted that members are often left with only two options: to tolerate the abuse or stand down. Chair of the session Alexandra Mendès MP (Assistant Deputy Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons) said:Having to tolerate abuse due to gender is a breach of the right to be free of gender-based violence while being forced to resign as a result of abuse is a breach of women’s rights to participate in politics.”

Through its Women in Parliament programme, CPA UK supports Commonwealth parliamentarians in implementing measures to increase gender representation and gender-sensitive practices and to eliminate violence against women and girls. This work is in line with wider goals towards gender equality as outlined in item 12 of the Commonwealth Charter and the UN’s Strategic Development Goals (SDG5).