Julie Ballington
Publication Date
Publication Date: 
December 20, 2017

"Until recently, lack of data and the stigma attached to gender-based violence in many societies have kept violence against women in elections (VAWE) on the margins of study. Yet it is a barrier to women that exists in every country, with cumulative layers of discrimination on the basis of race, age, class, disability, education, ethnicity and gender."

Equality of participation by women and men in politics, and opportunities for women's leadership at all levels of decision-making, have been globally acknowledged as vital contributors to more prosperous and stable societies in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Yet violence against women (VAW) presents a serious obstacle to the realisation of women's political rights. This report contains original ideas, suggestions, experiences, and knowledge shared by numerous individuals through their work in the field of women's political participation, eliminating violence against women, and electoral assistance. It was originally conceived under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)'s Global Programme on Electoral Cycle Support (GPECS), and brought to fruition with UN Women's support. It seeks to identify the specific components of violence against women in elections, including types, tactics, victims, and perpetrators, and presents options for policy and programming responses based on current good practices. It also provides examples of definitions and methods from all regions that may prompt ideas for actions according to each country's national context.

The Guide is divided into two main parts. Part A introduces the basic concepts of VAWE and aims to define the forms VAWE takes and illustrate the victims and the perpetrators. It seeks to provide a gendered definition of election-related violence and identifies those actions which are most specifically targeted at women in electoral processes. As is explained in the guide's introduction, the growing presence of women in politics is viewed by some as being at odds with women's traditional gender roles, constituting a threat to traditional power relations and the status quo. The increase in women's political representation has been accompanied by a rise in violence against women in politics (VAWP). "Violence against women in political life is any act of, or threat of, gender-based violence, resulting in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering to women, that prevents them from exercising and realizing their political rights, whether in public or private spaces, including the right to vote and hold public office, to vote in secret and to freely campaign, to associate and assemble, and to enjoy freedom of opinion and expression. Such violence can be perpetrated by a family member, community member and or by the State."

The increase in VAWP is visible in different ways: in the escalation of harassment and aggression in various media, in the intimidation and sexual and physical violence against women in public life, in forcing political women to resign, and in the public scrutiny of women candidates where commentary examines their appearance, rather than their experience and policies. In the most extreme form of VAWP, women politicians have been assassinated for exercising their political rights. Political tensions and fierce competition during elections can create vulnerabilities for women's political participation, which in many cases is already disadvantaged compared to men, and can result in women's exclusion from the process.

An extensive human rights-based framework demonstrates the commitment of the international community to prevent, respond to, and eliminate VAW in all its forms. However, efforts to develop a framework for VAWE analysis and prevention, specifically, are confronted with several obstacles, including: lack of clear definitions of VAWE, combined with the absence of standard indicators; lack of data collected to measure prevalence and incidence; neglect of the political dimension in standard VAW definitions and programming responses; under-reporting by victims of both VAW and election-related violence; biases in the media and coverage; and lack of political will to address and combat violence.

Part B of the guide is dedicated to examining current policy and programming responses to mitigate VAWE. Drawing on current good practices, Part B offers policy and programming guidance, with detailed action points for policymakers and practitioners to be able to identify, prevent, and respond to VAWE throughout the electoral cycle. It covers these topics:

  1. Mapping and measuring VAWE
  2. Integrating VAWE into election observation and violence monitoring
  3. Engaging in legal and policy reform to prevent and respond to VAWE
  4. Preventing and mitigating VAWE through electoral arrangements
  5. Working with political parties to prevent and reduce VAWE
  6. Raising awareness and changing norms - Covered in this section are approaches including: raising awareness through campaigns; working with the media to raise awareness; engaging legislators and parliamentary networks; and including men in the efforts to prevent and respond to VAWE. "It is important to note, however, that although awareness-raising is an important component of a VAW prevention strategy, this must be accompanied by other interventions aimed at addressing the gender stereotypes, social norms, attitudes, behaviours and practices that tolerate and condone such violence, and that are rooted in gender inequalities and unbalanced power relations between men and women. Evidence shows that effective interventions to prevent VAW employ multiple methods (media and awareness raising campaigns combined with group training on gender equality and with women's economic empowerment initiatives), at multiple levels (society, community, family/relationships and individual), in a complementing manner."

Summary of actions that can be taken to mitigate VAWE across the electoral cycle:

  • Awareness raising campaigns to prevent VAWE
  • Adaptation of training programmes to introduce VAWE
  • Civic outreach materials that are adapted to the issues of VAWE
  • Commitment to report on VAWE in the media
  • Capacity building for media on VAWE
  • Media monitoring for gender bias
  • Engagement with legislators and parliamentary networks
  • Engagement with men as allies and influential advocates

The guide is intended for those working to prevent and mitigate violence against women in elections, including national electoral stakeholders and international organisations such as UNDP, UN Women, and other UN agencies, as well as those providing programming support on electoral assistance, women's political participation, human rights monitoring, and ending VAW. It may also be a resource for members and especially leaders of political parties, electoral management bodies, civil society organisations, women's groups, and gender equality activists.

Number of Pages: 



UN Women website, February 6 2018. Image credit: UN Photo/Bernadino Soares