Online Discussion on Sexual Harassment in Politics – Prevalence and Intervention

17 Jun '16 Fri 10:00 CEST06/17/2016 9:00pm EuroGender Online Discussion public Online Discussion on Sexual Harassment in Politics – Prevalence and Intervention Europe/Vilnius 06/17/2016 11:00am
17 Jun '16 Fri 20:00 CEST
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Minna Viinikka's picture

Good Morning,

I am Minna Viinikka from Women’s and Gender studies at University of Oulu. I will be facilitating the online discussion on behalf of our project Commitment to democracy through increasing women's participation - Code IWP.  Our project aims to encourage female participation and, more specifically, increase women's participation as voters and as candidates in both the N&E elections and political life. The project is co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union.

We know that women across Europe encounter sexual harassment in private and in public. Politics is not an exception in this issue and we see that this is one factor affecting to the possibilities of women to participate. However, many times the issue is kept quiet for multiple reasons.

We want to bring this issue into public discussion and thus we invite those of you who are online and those who will join throughout the day to share your experiences and knowledge on the issue in the hope that through sharing what we know and what we have, we can find ways to end the problem.

I am looking forward to a fruitful discussions!

Alexandrina Satnoianu's picture
Hello from Vilnius, 
 
Please allow me - on behalf of our Team - to welcome you to EIGE's main online consultation platform - EuroGender!
 
If you have have questions related to the platform or if you would like to organise online discussions yourselves, please contact us at: eurogender@eige.europa.eu.
 
We wish you a fruitful discussion!
 
Alexandrina 
Mary Koutselini's picture

Thank you Minna and Alexandrina for your support and EIGE for the hospitality and the opportunity for communication.

Froso Patsalidou's picture

Hello and good morning from Cyprus. Congratulations for this initiative. This topic is very important.

Mervi Heikkinen's picture

Parliaments are a place of political decision making, but various research suggests that sexist harassment at least occasionally bothers, and may even call into question, the central tasks of the parliaments and other local political decision making bodies. Furthermore, because of sexist harassment that female politicians experience, active participation to politics may appear as unattractive choice for ones life. Therefore it is important to pay more close attention to the matter and that is the reason and purpose of this on-line discussion: to open up a discussion in the Code IWP -project, which aims to increase women's political participation within European countries. How to make politics more democratic? How to create an equal access and atmosphere of equal respect?

Minna Viinikka's picture

As set in the agenda, during this discussion we hope to pay attention especially to the following questions:

  • What kind of experiences and knowledge we have on the issue?
  • What kind of tools and campaigns there have been to tackle sexual harassment in politics and how have these worked?
  • What kind of tools, interventions and campaigns would we still need?
Froso Patsalidou's picture

As far as it concerns the first question "what kind of experiences and knowledge we have on this issue", the results of the project Code IWP in Cyprus with male and female politicians indicate that sexism in the parliament can be identified in the following three forms:

A) low adherence to the rules of the parliament and promotion of a brotherly climate which increases the likelihood of discussions around football and football results in the parliament. This brotherly climate increases the likelihood of gender violence against women parliamentarians who do not feel equal as men parliamentarians and older members of the national parliaments. 
B) Sexist comments: Sexist comments like "You have entered the parliament and you have beautified its room" make women parliamentarians feel uncomfortable. Women are obliged to tolerate comments of this type, otherwise, they will be characterised in a negative way.
c) Women parliamentarians' insulting. We had a serious case of women parliamentarians' insulting, because of their appearance, their dressing during the last year.

Minna Viinikka

In Finland the issue has been researched a little. In her Doctoral thesis Researcher Hertta Vuorenmaa (née Niemi) found out that there is sexual harassment in the Parliament of Finland. One third of the women working in the Parliament had encountered sexual harassment while working and in 40 % of the cases they were harassed by a Member of the Parliament. The doctoral thesis was noticed by media and was discussed at that time. After this, few female politicians have come into publicity to tell about their experiences and the problem still continues.

Niemi, Hertta, Managing in the “Golden Cage” An Ethnographic Study of Work, Management and Gender in Parliamentary Administration, 2010 (http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978 952-232-103-9)

Mary Koutselini's picture

Sexual harassment remains an unpunished crime, mainly against women, who afraid to allege the offensive behaviour euther because they face the danger of losing their job or to be mocked. Female victims remain silent, as in the case of the domestic violence. The French initiative against impunity must become a starting point for radical measures.    

José Adán's picture

Good Morning!

I am José López, phd student at the University of Oulu. Cross-nations sexual harrasment is a real problem that affects the lives of women. Politicians, both male and female, need to address this issue in their daily interactions, communications, and statements, and mostly in their political actions. I belive this space for discussion will benefit us all, and help to create awareness about this sadly common issue.

Maria Athanasiou's picture

Good morning from sunny Cyprus and thank you for your initiative. I believe that it is extremely complicated for women in politics, who are supposed to represent power, confidence and serenity, to speak out for such an issue but they indeed have the authority to make the issue evident, while calling and pressing for clear policies in place to protect females, both at working level, where sexual harassment is expressed more frequently, and at political level. Adding to what has been said, 16 female former cabinet ministers from all parts of the political spectrum in France have published a joint statement swearing “never to remain silent again” about aggressive sexual behaviour by male colleagues.

Minna Viinikka

After the French Ministers released their statement there were few comments on the issue in Finnish newspapers. One young women commented that the issue is becoming even more invisible than what it has been as the harassment done by the party members takes place in social media and in the informal evening activities.

Unfortunately her solution to the problem was to leave politics and party activities completely.

Froso Patsalidou's picture

In Cyprus, the studies dealing with this topic is also very limited. Code IWP is the sole project who is concerned with these topics.

Minna Viinikka

During the Code IWP project we in Finland were able to interview and film few young female Members of the Parliament of Finland. In these videos the politicians shared their experiences and told some tips for young women who are interested in politics.

They also shared their experiences on harassment and told that the new technology makes them an easy target for harassment in social media and via e-mail. They had received e.g. rape threats, sexual suggestions, comments on their looks (and competence) and explicit pictures.

Mary Koutselini's picture

Yes,  it must become the issue in the daily intaractions. Legislation that penalises the sexual harassment is not enough. I believe that there is a problem in the identification and common definition of incidents of sexual harassment. What is an "innocent" joke and what is an offensive gesture or a whistle of "admiration". The offenders usually use this argument in order to excuse their behaviour.

Maria Athanasiou's picture

We had some serious incidents of sexual harassment in Parliament that were known to the public the last few years. I believe that besides tools, interventions and campaigns we should focus on prevention strategies. Strategies should be holistic, with multiple interventions undertaken in parallel in order to have long-lasting and permanent effects. Many sectors, actors and stakeholders need to be engaged. More evidence is emerging on what interventions work to prevent violence and sexual harassment - from community mobilization to change social norms, to comprehensive school interventions targeting staff and pupils, to economic empowerment and income supplements coupled with gender equality training. This would be a first step. Do you have any examples of interventions at national level that helped in the case of your country?

Minna Viinikka

I agree with you that we should have prevention strategies. I mentioned in my earlier message one research conducted in the Finnish Parliament. During the media discussion on the results of the study the Parliament was preparing a new Equality Plan for the Parliament of Finland. I believe that these kind of Plans can prevent sexual harassment if they are planned properly (everyone is included in the process) and the execution is done with care.

However the new Equality Plan did not end harassment in the Parliament of Finland.

Froso Patsalidou's picture

I think that women parliamentarians speaking is not sufficient. The sexism lies in most of the cases in everyday activities that sound natural and it is very difficult and time consuming for women politicians to thematize these behaviours. To my opinion, a code of good practices for increasing democracy in the national and European parliaments is more than necessary.

Minna Viinikka

I agree, tackling this issue should not be the responsibility of female politicians but the whole society and organizations. There should be safe space for the politicians to tell about their experiences, but they can not and should not try to solve the issue alone. They should be able to concentrate on their work.

Maria Athanasiou's picture

I strongly agree.  Even though the problem is recognized and a relatively full and adequate institutional framework exists and is being gradually supplemented and amended in line with EU provisions, women tend to conceal the problem. There should be a clear policy statement made at national level. A statement that would prevent and tackle these behaviors. Each country should gather information and details of vulnerable groups and examples of sexual harassment.  Although Cypriot legislation prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, there is evidence that sexual harassment at work is a widespread problem, with most incidents not reported to the authorities. Therefore, a procedure for the submission and examination of complaints should be established, a procedure that will encourage victims to speak out without any consequences in their job, status, place in the political party they are involved etc.

Minna Viinikka

I mentioned in my earlier message that during the Code IWP project, we in Finland were able to interview and film few young female Members of the Parliament of Finland. In these videos the politicians shared their experiences on harassment and told that the new technology makes them an easy target for harassment in social media and via e-mail. As they shared their experiences we also asked them to tell how they deal with these sexist comments and other messages they receive and the only answer they could give was that you have to develop a thick skin and let the comments be. Of course they reported some rape threats to police. So even though there are codes of practices in the organizations they work (parties, parliaments etc) there are cases where they have no ways to react to the situation via official paths.

Froso Patsalidou's picture
Dear Minna, I would like to ask if the increased participation of women in the Finnish parliament has resulted in the reduction of phenomena of sexual harassment.
Minna Viinikka

To my knowledge, as we don't have any statistics except for the one conducted research it is very difficult to answer the question. The only information we have are the statements made in public by the female politicians. Immediately after the last elections one elected female member of parliament wrote that she had been harassed by two male members of the parliament who she did not know. She told that she had not encountered this behavior before the last elections but to her it seemed that these kind of actions were a continuous problem during the first weeks after the results of the elections.

Floria Valanidou's picture

Hello to all of you. Just joined the discussion and read all of your comments that are quite interesting. I am sure, of course, that the issue of sexual harassment cannot be ‘addressed’ in any country in a simple way since legislation, procedures and, most importantly, attitudes of both men and women need to change while the results of such change will be only visible in the long term.

In my opinion, sexual harassment shows, above all, how power relations between men and women are built– women are much more likely to be the victims of sexual harassment precisely because they lack power, are in more vulnerable and insecure positions, lack self confidence, or have been socialized to suffer in silence.  And further, violence by men against women exists in many settings and not just in politics.

The issue with politics is that the hostility toward women is closely related to male attitudes about the “proper” politician, who definitely needs to be a man since he can only reach the standards of this position: he has the ‘masculinity’, the ‘disposition’, the ‘power’ and the ‘time’ to do it. All of these, of course, are socially framed and coded while, on the contrary, women have to undertake a more traditional role: in the domestic sphere just caring for home and children. 

Minna Viinikka

Hello, welcome to the discussion and thank you for you comments. The solution to the issue is of course linked to a larger change in society. In our other projects and teaching work here in Oulu, Finland, we have had courses targeted to professionals working with children, vulnerable groups, victims of violence etc. During these courses we have of course discussed gender roles and how to recognize violence but also the ways to build non-violence and equality in different surroundings and organizations. We believe that when we educate (the future) teachers and other professionals on these issues we can change the situation of vulnerable groups. In short education of different groups is one answer to the problem. Do you have some examples of solutions to be shared?

Alexandrina Satnoianu's picture

Regarding statistics, in EIGE's Gender Statistics Database we have calculated the trend of women MPs out of total - http://europa.eu/!JX99Yv, but when it comes to harassment, I am afraid we do not have (comparable) data - http://europa.eu/!qY83Mq. It might be the case in several MS, therefore the need of conducting qualitative research in the area is legitimate.

Minna Viinikka

During the Code IWP project in Finland, we also used the Gender Equality Index published by EIGE. We found that that was a good tool to visualize the situation regarding gender, power and politics on a national scale and in comparison to other countries :)

Alexandrina Satnoianu's picture

Minna, that is wonderful to hear! Will make sure will pass the news to colleagues working hard on Gender Equality Index 2017 :)

Hara Triteou's picture

[quote=Alexandrina Satnoianu]

Regarding statistics, in EIGE's Gender Statistics Database we have calculated the trend of women MPs out of total - http://europa.eu/!JX99Yv, but when it comes to harassment, I am afraid we do not have (comparable) data - http://europa.eu/!qY83Mq. It might be the case in several MS, therefore the need of conducting qualitative research in the area is legitimate.

[/quote]

Hello from me as well!

Indeed, the qualitative reasearch conducted in the field is limited and even less intervention programmes are designed for battling the problem. In some countries, sexual harassment constitutes one of the main barriers for women's political paricipation. Therefore, there is a need for developing campaigns, tools, handbooks or manuals useful for educating women politicians and people in general against sexual harassment in politics. For sure, on European level, legislative measures will be a valuable step towards preventing this phenomenon.   

Floria Valanidou's picture

Minna, thank you for your comment and the example you shared with us.

I also reckon that when we educate the future teachers and other professionals on these issues, that is, gender-based violence, gender roles and attitudes etc. we can empower them so as to make a step to change.

In my opinion, it is also important to educate children while professionals need to be also aware of how to deal with children who may have gender stereotypes and certain beliefs on gender roles or even who may suffer violence themselves at home. And I am saying this, since children also consist a vulnerable group.

When running the VICTIMS project at the University of Cyprus during 2009-2011, the coordinator of which was Professor Mary Koutselini, we have published related manuals for professionals, teachers and social workers, as well as parents, on how to deal with the effects of children's victimization to violence. Here are the links to these manuals: 

http://www.ucy.ac.cy/victims/documents/exeiridia/VICTIMS_Parents_EN.pdf

http://www.ucy.ac.cy/victims/documents/exeiridia/VICTIMS_Teachers_EN.pdf

http://www.ucy.ac.cy/victims/documents/exeiridia/VICTIMS_SocialWorkers_E...

Minna Viinikka's picture

Dear all,

Thank you for your participation. Our conversation time will soon end but the possibility to comment remains open until 20.00 CEST for any additional comments. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts during this afternoon and evening!

To summarize the discussion a bit, I would say that it looks like we have very little actual research, knowledge and data on the issue. We know that sexual harassment exists, but the total scale of the problem is not visible for us. But the effects on women’s possibilities are real and few women are able to tell about their experiences. As a solution, legislation, pre-known procedures, prevention strategies and a more comprehensive change in society would be needed. The responsibility on the issue should be on many actors. In short, we need more information and actions.

Thank you once more.

Minna

Alexandrina Satnoianu's picture

Thank you once more for using EuroGender to support your exchange of opinions, share of knowledge and expertise on the issue of sexual harassment. 

We will upload the transcript of the online discussion most probably tomorrow.

Organisers will consider the draft of an online discussion report where they will identify follow-up actions.

With our warmest regards from Vilnius, 

Alexandrina