British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Matthew Field dedicated his new blogpost to annual international campaign ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’.
“Along with many others across Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UK Embassy is currently marking ’16 Days of Activism’ to combat violence against women. Why only 16 days, you might well ask, and what does this mean for the other 349? By giving this critical problem a defined period of focus, running from November 25, the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, to December 10, the International Human Rights Day, we shine a light on the different forms that violence against women takes, hoping to motivate and energize fighting this phenomenon all year round”, Field wrote.
The UK Ambassador reminded that earlier this year, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy had carried out some ground-breaking research into one of the aspects of violence against women: Attacks targeted at women in public life, and politics in particular. For the first time, speaking to 89 female politicians from across the country, and at different levels, the study examined their experiences.
The picture, according to Field, is disturbing. “The great majority report persistent harassment and abuse, linked to their activities in politics, clearly amounting to a pattern of violence and intimidation. And yes, there are many men in politics here who could identify with this kind of pressure and criticism. But there are particular features of this violence against women in politics that make it more severe, and its consequences for the society in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole more serious”, he wrote.
“A woman in politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina will likely receive verbal and emotional abuse, from their political opponents and within their own party. They will likely face attacks based on their physical appearance, including criticism for being attractive or not, for being too feminine or not enough, for being too dominant or not enough. They will likely face accusations of relationships with other politicians, of having ‘slept their way to the top’, of being bad wives or mothers, of being promiscuous or insufficiently interested in men. Their partners and children may be targeted. They will likely face threats of murder, rape or other violent acts, or extorted for sexual favors. And if they speak up, the attacks will likely increase”, Field explained.
He added that “the nature, graphic detail, and vitriol of such attacks go far beyond those typically experienced by men in politics”. “It is demeaning and belittling, and deliberately so. It is meant to tell women they do not belong in public life”, said the UK Ambassador.
Field believes that this is most likely happening “because the sight of women taking a prominent role in decision-making, allocating resources, and leading, is a direct challenge to many”.
“This makes the ultimate objective of such attacks, both in the short and long-term, the forcing out of women from political life, and the silencing of their voices”, he wrote, adding that “this kind of behavior need not only come from men”, as “gender stereotypes and biases are present in the thinking of both men and women”.
The study prepared by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy concludes with some ideas on what can be done to address these issues, including filling gaps in the law. “It strongly encourages parties, parliaments and other institutions to have clear codes of conduct for addressing sexual and other forms of harassment. It calls for media to examine closely their editorial policies for bias against women, and to consider closely how they present women in politics and attacks on them. And it looks to law enforcement and judicial authorities to train their staff to take seriously and properly investigate such attacks when they occur, including online violence”, Field explained.
He underlined that “political parties can do more to strengthen and empower women within their political parties by making gender equality a principle in their party documents and structures, and by creating an enabling environment”.
“But there is a role for all of us. Let us all call out bias and violence when we see it, to protect the right of female politicians to have a voice and use it, and to show that we also believe that women belong in political life. When we all speak up and address or question negative bias, attitudes and behaviors, including our own, it will create a better environment for all of us”, Field concluded.