Violence against Women in Politics: A Blog Symposium #StopVAWIP #WHRD

Prajnya’s initial plans for its gender equality work were to document the work of women in the South Asian public sphere—as activists, politicians, bureaucrats, social workers and those who document this history as historians, writers, film-makers or journalists. We realised too that the biggest obstacle in women’s journeys towards the public spotlight was the threat of violence. This is why we began organising the 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence. With this blog symposium on Violence against Women in Politics, we come full-circle to where we started.

We posit women’s participation in the public sphere both as an intrinsic good and as a right. But what are the costs that women face in order to pursue political careers? Indeed, there are two dimensions of this work—there is work that women might do within the mainstream and there is the work that they do on the margins of a mainstream space where rights are violated with rising impunity. We are placing here on a single spectrum the two categories of ‘violence against women in politics’ and threats faced by Women Human Rights Defenders, because the roots of the problem (the will to exclude) and its expression (violence) seem to be similar.

The NDI guidebook, “Not the Cost,” identifies four roles in which women stepping into the public sphere face violence: as activists, as voters, as candidates and as parliamentarians. This study classifies threats as psychological, physical, sexual and economic, while a report by the Centre for Social Research and UN Women classifies them as structural, institutional and functional. There is a growing academic literature on this question, annotated last year as part of the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign.

This year’s blog symposium has a simpler objective—to simply be a window to the world in which political women work. What is it like from their point of view? Why is it so hard for women to enter and stay the course in politics? What is the relationship between the women’s movement and mainstream politics? And of course, what are the threats that women face when they take up human rights work or enter the mainstream?

We are fortunate to have perspectives from six countries: India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico (which is an American-held territory), Colombia and the US itself. Each of these are written by people who care profoundly about their contexts. Through the six, what emerges is what women can achieve when they work together—anything, from a quota for women’s reservation to a peace pact.

  1. India
  2. Maldives
  3. Sri Lanka
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. Colombia
  6. USA
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