Panelist Hon. Gabriela Cuevas Barron (President of the IPU and MP Mexico) relayed a personal story regarding her first year in the Parliament at the age of 21 and how one of her colleagues tried to get her into his hotel room. She was also able to relay how these types of encounters have encouraged the passing of laws in Mexico and other parliaments. The Hon. Sunna Aevarsdottir (Rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and MP Iceland) talked about preventive measures, including the importance of codes of conduct for Parliamentarians and their staffs as demonstrating commitments. And Senator Susan Kihika (President IPU Bureau of Women Parliamentarians and Majority Whip of Kenya Senate) discussed the importance of taking the reports of sexual harassment seriously.
We also heard from Representatives Barbara Lee, Debbie Lesko, and Bonnie Watson Coleman, each relaying their commitment to addressing the phenomenon—including strengthening the existing law (sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier) passed in December 2018 that, among other things, calls for an end to taxpayer dollars used to settle sexual harassment claims perpetrated by members of Congress and/or their staff.
There are three major points that I’ve learned at the UN over the years: 1) Harassment leads to threats and then to violence, if gone unchecked. 2) When harassment is done by those in power, it gives a green light for violence to ensue. 3) Sitting on the sidelines and being silent leads to continuing violence.
For me, this panel discussion clarified that we all can insist that our political leaders adhere to civil discourse by only allowing our precious votes to go to those who do not harass opponents and others.
Watch a video of the panel discussion below: