UN Women report: 60% of SE Asian women do not participate in politics due to violence fears

Violence against women in politics is rampant in South Asia according to a new study conducted by the Centre for Social Research and UN Women. The study, ‘Violence against Women in Politics’ revealed that the insufficient implementation of laws, lack of support from police and judiciary, the socio-economic divide and current power structures are the major reasons for violence.

The study was conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan and analyses incidents of violence that occurred from 2003 to 2013. It was conducted to address the nature, extent and reasons for violence that inhibits women’s political participation.

Approximately 800 respondents were interviewed including election commission officials, police, contestants, and families in urban and rural areas.

The study finds that while the percentage of female voters and women candidates fielded by political parties has increased in all three countries, the percentage of female representatives in national bodies has decreased. The study also finds that more than 60 per cent of women do not participate in politics due to fear of violence.

“From our comprehensive review of laws on violence against women, it is clear that none of the three countries has legislation that deals strictly with offenders to prevent violence against women in politics. We know that where laws are in place, prevalence tends to be lower and fewer people think that violence against women in justifiable,” says Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women’s Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, Julie McKay says that the Report highlights that political disenfranchisement exists on all levels for women. “Women are not just being excluded from political office, or the upper echelons of government. Women are also being denied the right to cast their vote and participate in local government and decisions which immediately affect them, due to family pressures and gender discrimination.”

“Violence, and threats of violence against women are never acceptable, and should not be used as a method of control to prevent women from participating in political life.”

Key findings of the Report:

  • Almost 50 per cent of respondents felt that the decision on a woman’s participation in electoral politics should be taken by her family.
  • 90 per cent of respondents felt that violence against women within a family increases when women are unable to fulfil domestic responsibilities.
  • 60 per cent of respondents felt that police do not respect women’s rights and most cases go unreported, leading to a higher number of cases of violence against women.
  • While physical violence, verbal abuse and threat of violence are higher for India, character assassination is seen as a greater threat in Pakistan and Nepal.
  • 45 per cent of women candidates in India faced physical violence and threats in comparison to only 21 per cent and 16 per cent in Nepal respectively.
  • Denial of the right to vote was commonly experienced by women voters, while women candidates were denied their right to join a political party or to contest elections.

Key recommendations of the Report:

  • Law-making: expand political reservations for women, with an extension of a minimum 33 per cent reservation at all levels.
  • Political parties: should also include more women party members in central and selection committees and in parliamentary committees.
  • Law-implementation: the Election Commission needs to take steps to recognize, protect, promote and institutionalize women’s participation in politics.