Majority of female politicians in Wales say they have been abused or harassed

By agency reporter
July 13, 2018

A majority of female politicians surveyed in Wales say they have suffered harassment or abuse, according to research by the Electoral Reform Society Cymru (ERS Wales).

Abuse faced by politicians, difficulties maintaining a healthy family life and financial concerns are stopping better representation in Welsh politics, says the new report from the democracy group.

The findings reveal harassment is rife, with politicians reporting being sent excrement through their letter box, opening letters filled with razor blades, and women being harassed by male politicians.

New Voices: How Welsh politics can begin to reflect Wales is based on surveys of over 250 Welsh representatives, as well as in-depth interviews with key party figures.

The revelations – published in the centenary of women’s suffrage – have led to ERS Cymru proposing 16 changes to remove barriers to diverse political representation – including putting in place gender quotas, a requirement on Welsh political parties to develop a joint code of conduct around intimidatory behaviour and better processes by social media companies for those wishing to report abuse.

Of the 266 respondents to the survey, 121 said they had been abused or harassed either in office or while campaigning, which is 45.5 per cent of total respondents and includes 54 per cent of female respondents.

In addition to abuse and harassment, the reality of being a politician was found to be a barrier to better representation with the implications on family life being a major factor, particularly for councillors who often have to balance part or full time jobs with their duties in addition to caring for family members.

The financial implications of becoming a candidate were also found to be prohibitive to many who might consider standing.

ERS Cymru say the findings suggests Wales faces a similar crisis to Westminster, revealed in the abuse scandal allegations last year.

Launching the report, Jess Blair, ERS Cymru Director, said: “This report offers a shocking account of the realities of being a politician in Wales. The scale of abuse faced by elected representatives is appalling.

“That over half of female politicians who took part in our report have said they have been abused in office suggests so many scandals we simply don’t know about. But given the situation it’s no wonder that many people look at politics and think it’s not for them.

“We need to look at modernising our institutions, and to work with parties to identify and develop a more diverse set of candidates. Alongside this we also need to take the levels of abuse and harassment that politicians are facing seriously, with clear complaint and enforcement procedures that can effectively deal with this.

“We hope that this report acts as a wakeup call for political parties, institutions and even social media companies. Our recommendations may make uncomfortable reading for parties who currently take little action on diversity – but they are vital to create a politics in Wales that reflects the people here.”

One politician said, “I have been slapped on the bottom by one Member and another attempted to pull me under a tree and kiss me.” Another said, “[I received] inappropriate sexual advances by constituents during advice surgeries and during door to door canvassing sessions”

Bethan Sayed AM said, “Since I have got married to somebody from India, I’ve experienced perhaps more racial attacks in their tone that I have obviously never experienced before. So you have to deal with that as well and because, you know, do you report those types of things? Do you just accept it, saying that I don’t want to become a victim, or then are you part of the problem because you are not reporting them? I think it’s a very difficult position to be in as an elected representative.”

A former political aide who has been put off standing for office also shared their experiences: “A rock (and then traffic cone) was thrown at our shop front office window, shattering the glass all over my colleague. I was stalked home by a constituent…On social media there were the usual rude comments about my bosses’ weight. My other boss who had a family had threats directed at his wife and children as well as himself.”

The report is available in English here and in Welsh here

* ERS Cymru https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/ers-cymru/

* Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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