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News code: 28508
Published Date: Tuesday 5 November 2019 - 13:47:32
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Threats and Abuse Prompt Female Lawmakers to Leave U.K. Parliament

Threats and Abuse Prompt Female Lawmakers to Leave U.K. Parliament
World  - Eighteen female members of Parliament are not seeking re-election. Many say a barrage of abuse, online and offline, factored into their decision.

Threats of sexual violence. Death threats. Racist abuse.

Female members of Britain's Parliament have long said that this type of vitriolic abuse, both online and off, is increasingly common. Now, several women who have decided not to run for re-election when British voters go to the polls next month say that abuse, threats and a culture of intimidation are a significant reason they are leaving Parliament.

"I am exhausted by the invasion into my privacy and the nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace," Heidi Allen, a member of Parliament, wrote in a detailed letter to her constituents explaining why she will not be on the ballot. "Nobody in any job should have to put up with threats, aggressive emails, being shouted at in the street, sworn at on social media, nor have to install panic alarms at home."

Ms. Allen is among more than 50 members of Parliament, including 18 women, who have said they will not stand in the Dec. 12 election. And while that ratio roughly mirrors Parliament's overall gender breakdown, women's rights activists worry that this climate could deter other women from entering national politics, reversing a trend that had brought the proportion of female lawmakers in the House of Commons to an all-time high of 32 percent.

Rights groups also say that an increasingly bitter political climate surrounding Brexit has fueled the flames - as did recent remarks by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the treatment of female lawmakers.

In a parliamentary debate in September, Mr. Johnson dismissed such threats as "humbug" and said that lawmakers had only themselves to blame for the hostile political climate.

Many women in Parliament - both those who will be candidates in the election and those who will not - say they have been subject to online abuse, threats and intimidation.

"Sexually charged rhetoric has been prevalent in the online abuse of female MPs, with threats to rape us and referring to us by our genitalia," Caroline Spelman, a Conservative lawmaker who is stepping down after 22 years in Parliament, wrote in an opinion piece in The Times of London. "It is therefore not surprising that so many good female colleagues have decided to stand down at this election."

The situation even prompted 72 female members of Parliament to sign a letter of solidarity to Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who has spoken about the difficulty of public life in Britain."Although we find ourselves being women in public life in a very different way to you," the letter read, "we share understanding of the abuse and intimidation which is now so often used as a means of disparaging women in public office from getting on with our very important work."

Since her engagement to Prince Harry in 2017, the duchess has been a target of racial abuse - a factor that a report by Amnesty International during Britain's last general election, in 2017, found carried over to Parliament as well.

Women of color in Parliament were subjected to the highest levels of online abuse during that campaign, the report found. And nearly half of the tweets examined were directed at Diane Abbott, a Labour lawmaker who was the first black woman elected to Parliament.

Some male politicians have also experienced threats of violence, online abuse and attacks in recent years. A Labour member of Parliament had homophobic graffiti sprayed on his office last month and in 2010 another Labour lawmaker was stabbed by a constituent.

Some in Britain worry that the vitriolic words against lawmakers could spill over into violence, with many citing the 2016 murder of Jo Cox, a Labour member of Parliament who was killed by a right-wing extremist a week before the Brexit referendum.

Catherine Anderson, the chief executive of the Jo Cox Foundation, a community-building charity that was created after the murder, said the decision of so many women not to run for re-election to Parliament next month was a "tangible symbol of the worsening intimidation both online and offline" for women in the public sphere.

 

News Code: 28508
Published Date: Tuesday 5 November 2019 - 13:47:32
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