13 APR 2019

Speech at Council of Europe on sexism in parliaments

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I agree with the comments that have been made about this issue affecting men as well as women, and I am sickened by the violence that many of my female parliamentary colleagues are facing. It is particularly offensive to us all that these attacks are aimed at women. We have all come into politics to serve our constituents to our best abilities. We may disagree on the best way to achieve that and on policy, but we have all come in to serve our constituents. However, these attacks on women make it less likely that we can achieve Parliaments which truly reflect society. In the UK, it is not just Brexit fury that influences this. It is also the spread of anti-Semitism and the attacks on female Jewish parliamentarians. It is clear that more women are facing aggressive attacks than men.

The report also mentions the current report in the UK on bullying and effective remedies. Abuse, bullying and intimidation are covered in it where those are mainly directed at women. I want to raise some general points on this. It should never be acceptable for women to have to experience this sort of activity and for no remedy to be available. It shows that a parliament that is doing this does not take the whole issue seriously. In the UK, as many of you will have seen, this has even raised questions about the behaviour of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The report rightly points out that if we do not tackle this, it may affect the ability or willingness of women to participate in political life, as so many speakers in this debate have already said.

I support the two recommendations made in the report that we are looking at, but the first of them is by far the more difficult: to change the culture. I think that we have underestimated the difficulty of changing the culture. You have only to look at a recent poll where one in two French-speaking Belgians think that society is still dominated by men to see the problems, but we must try to change that culture. The introduction of effective procedures for dealing with sexism and sexual harassment is much the easier thing to tackle. We are all doing that and, hopefully, all changing the situation.

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