Experiences of violence and online abuse from Fiji and the UK: ‘It happens to us no matter where we are, and it happens to us because we are women.’

Published 17 March 2021

Participants in the virtual bilateral meeting between female parliamentarians from Fiji and UK

Participants in the virtual bilateral meeting between female parliamentarians from Fiji and UK

In the week leading up to International Women’s Day 2021, CPA UK hosted a virtual bilateral meeting between women parliamentarians from the Republic of Fiji and the United Kingdom. The private meeting was an opportunity for members to explore violence against women in politics, in all of its forms, and to share experiences in a confidential environment.

Minister Rosy Sofia Akbar, Honourable Veena Bhatnagar, Honourable Lenore Lenora Qereqeretabua, Jess Phillips MP, Dawn Butler MP, Heather Wheeler MP and Baroness Ann Taylor participated in the conversation.

Members shared the barriers that exist for them in public life and shared personal experiences of the abuse they had suffered, online and in person, as politicians. It was noted by one member that violence against female women parliamentarians is not surprising, but it is shocking that it occurs in the same form across such a large geographical distance.

‘It happens to us no matter where we are, and it happens to us because we are women.’

Discussion between parliamentarians focussed on the causes of violence and threats against women, which were spoken about as a form of control over women based on power dynamics. There was unanimous agreement that violence and threats against female women parliamentarians are unacceptable and delegates shared their determination to set a positive example to a younger generation of women to inspire them to enter political office. The importance of setting an example through using official channels to highlight abuse faced and to prosecute those responsible, such as filing complaints to the police force, was discussed to ensure that illegal and threatening behaviour is held to account.

Delegates also discussed the effects of online abuse and violence against women in the public eye and agreed that this can act as a deterrent to women entering political spaces. Campaigning for election and re-election and the toll this takes on members was also spoken about, as well as the threats faced by members when working in their constituency.

Members from Fiji and the UK are currently involved in the work of Not the Cost, a campaign started in 2016 by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the United Nations (UN) that raises awareness of violence against women in politics. Members spoke of the importance in creating support networks and awareness raising initiatives such as this, and the work of CPA UK, to bring together parliaments across the Commonwealth and beyond. The use of mentoring was also discussed as a tool to encourage women to enter political life, alongside establishing wider support networks and safe spaces for women to share their experiences.

The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) Pakistan was referenced as an example of a strong political caucus of women from different political parties, united in their purpose to increase women’s representation. Different measures to encourage female women’s representation and increase the number of women elected were also spoken about, such as quota systems within political parties or national parliaments and the different ways these have been used in Fiji and the UK.

As well as sharing experiences of personal abuse faced, the parliamentarians also shared their tips for managing abuse and for continuing to set a positive example for other aspiring women. One of these focussed on creating allies within the media, coverage and in particular through the increase in female women journalists covering politics in the UK. This in turn has changed the tone of media coverage linked to female women politicians in the House of Commons with focus on policy rather than the physical appearance of members. All participants agreed that this valuable conversation would be repeated at a future date and there was much to be learnt from sharing experiences between women parliamentarians across the Commonwealth.

Online abuse and the threats faced by women parliamentarians are prevalent across the Commonwealth. As part of CPA UK’s priority thematic work, we are currently undertaking a research project funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to research legislation that protects women from violence. Click here for more information.