Latin America Fights to Eradicate Violence Against Women in Politics

Picture tweeted by Rosa Pérez when she returned to her Municipality Office after the Federal Electoral Court ruled in her favor.

Latin America is the leading region in the world addressing violence against women in politics (VAWP). As a former justice of the Federal Electoral Court in Mexico and as the first woman to be president of that Court, I wish to share my thoughts on the current legal status of the issues in Latin America. I will also provide recommendations on how the campaign can stop this type of violence.

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The Danger of a Single Statistic

Many eye-catching headlines, World Bank indicators and even news on social media highlight and congratulate feminist progress based on the growing number of women elected to parliament, cabinet or other political bodies. For example, when my home country of Nepal elected its first female president, it was touted as a great step forward for women’s equality. However, these examples mask important underlying issues that limit progress for women. A single number really doesn’t tell the full story. In fact, for every side there is to a story, there should be a dataset to tell it.

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Fixing the Glitch: Being part of the #NotTheCost Campaign

Seyi Akiwowo (second from right) speaking at the #NotTheCost Forum held at the George Washington University titled “Opportunities and Threats Posed by New Media.”

In 2017, after facing horrendous online abuse and harassment when a video of my speech at the European Parliament went viral, I founded Glitch!UK, a not-for-profit online abuse advocacy, campaigning and training organisation. Glitch!UK aims to end online abuse and harassment including online violence against women in politics. ‘Glitch’ means a temporary malfunction with equipment, and I used it for my organisation’s name because when we look back on this period in time I want us all to be able to say that the rise in online abuse and harassment was only a ‘glitch’ in our history. I was asked to be part of NDI’s Internet Governance Forum 2017 panel on the issue of online violence against women in politics, and in the months since then, I have become a public advocate for NDI’s #NotTheCost campaign, participating in three #NotTheCost events in Washington, D.C., in May.

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Name It, Talk About It: Putting an end to violence against women in politics in Honduras

Political party members participate in a focus group to inform the assessment on violence against women in political parties in Honduras.

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For NDI and its Honduran local partners, addressing violence against women in politics is critical to promoting strong and inclusive democratic societies. Violence against women in politics is a barrier to their active participation in democratic spaces and limits their ability to lead and be heard by their communities. It is important to place this issue on the political agenda and advocate for legislation to prevent, respond to, sanction and eradicate all forms of violence against women. In an effort to document violence against politically-active women in Honduras, NDI supported the creation of the Women’s Political Violence Observatory during the 2017 electoral process. The Observatory documented and followed 14 cases of violence against female candidates in San Pedro Sula, including Councillor Fátima Mena Baide, throughout the pre-electoral period.

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No Party to Violence: An Assessment from Côte d’Ivoire

Representatives of Ivorian and international institutions, embassies, political parties and civil society join NDI’s cross-party exchange to discuss key actions that could be taken to address and mitigate violence against women in political parties.

In Côte d’Ivoire, as we have found in many other places around the world, violence against women in politics has long been hidden, unknown, unrecognized, ignored or considered part of the "normal" practice of politics or as the "cost of politics." This is true for women across political sectors, including as voters, candidates, activists and elected or appointed officials. While political parties in Côte d’Ivoire serve as critical pathways for women’s political participation and engagement, including for young or new politicians, they continue to be male-dominated institutions, which allows and enables violence against women in their ranks. Because women believe that speaking out will at best have no real impact, and at worst make their situations worse, the violence women face within political parties has also gone largely unreported.

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#MeToo for Women in Politics

As a young lawmaker in the Missouri state legislature, Senator Claire McCaskill once sought advice from a senior member about how to get a piece of legislation out of committee. He responded by asking if she had “brought her knee pads.”

In the wake of the revelations about predatory attacks on women in Hollywood, in newsrooms and in the halls of legislatures, women around the world have been stepping forward to provide #MeToo testimonies about their experience of sexual harassment.

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My Rights are Your Rights: How one transgender woman in Guatemala is making change

Debby Linares, during her presentation at NDI, with fellow human rights activist, Fernando Us Alvarez.

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In the first week of December 2017, I had the chance to meet Debby Linares, a transgender woman and human rights activist from Guatemala, who soon became an inspiration to me on a personal level. Debby, who has been a human rights activist for the past 16 years, advocates for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights at the municipal and state level in Guatemala.

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16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

NDI Mexico and the National Institute for Women (Inmujeres) launch the #NotTheCost (#NoEsElCosto) campaign, among representatives of government agencies, civil society and political parties.

We hope that you’ve noticed the orange-ing of NDI’s website logo as part of our institutional contribution to the worldwide 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Violence against women (VAW) is rooted in gender inequality and must be stopped. It is also one of the many barriers to women’s meaningful and active political participation that NDI’s programs work to overcome.

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NDI and Liberal International Work Together to Stop Violence Against Women in Politics

NDI and Liberal International's (LI) session "Ending Violence Against Women in Politics: Liberal Strategies and Perspectives," which was held during the 197th LI Executive Committee meeting on November 12, 2016, in Marrakesh, Morocco

When I look at my political career, I realize how much we owe to the struggles of my mother and grandmother’s generations. By the time my grandmother became an adult, she was able to vote on equal terms with men because that universal right had been introduced in 1906, making Finnish women the first in the world legally allowed to run for office. Those rights came about largely because men and women, young and old, farmers, workers, entrepreneurs, everybody was needed in the struggle for independence, which we achieved in 1917.

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Life after City Hall: Running a Shelter, Building a Network

A shelter in Houston, TX, for victims of Hurricane Harvey

On the evening of August 25, hurricane Harvey began to move into the Texas Gulf Coast. The greater Houston area is east of where Harvey made landfall, on what is known as the wet side of the storm, with rain bands carrying water from the Gulf of Mexico. Usually, Gulf hurricanes keep moving inland, gradually losing strength as they move away from the coast. But Harvey did the unexpected, stalling just onshore. Very little wind, no longer a storm surge, just record-breaking amounts of rain. Parts of Houston received as much as 52 inches of rain over four days, leading to massive flooding.

When I was Mayor of Houston, Texas (population 2.38 million), I had the opportunity to touch thousands of people’s lives. Now, as a part of NDI’s Women Mayors’ Network (WoMN), I am able to tap into the reservoir of talent and ability that current and former mayors provide each other. My recent work on relief efforts following hurricane Harvey proved a timely reminder of this fact.

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