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Violence against women in politics is increasingly recognized around the world but especially in Latin America as an emerging tactic to deter women's political participation. We survey how this concept has been defined by academics and practitioners across the region largely in terms of physical and psychological violence and draw on global data and research in various disciplines to propose expanding this concept to include two further forms of violence: economic and symbolic. We provide examples of all four types of violence in Latin American countries and then consider a range of solutions that might be pursued in light of this broader definition. We emphasize that a comprehensive approach provides the best means for tackling violence in all its forms.
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence
in Latin America
Concepts, debates and solutions
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín*
Abstract: Violence against women in politics is increasingly recognized around the world
—but especially in Latin America— as an emerging tactic to deter women’s political par-
ticipation. We survey how this concept has been defined by academics and practitioners
across the region —largely in terms of physical and psychological violence— and draw on
global data and research in various disciplines to propose expanding this concept to in-
clude two further forms of violence: economic and symbolic. We provide examples of all
four types of violence in Latin American countries and then consider a range of solutions
that might be pursued in light of this broader definition. We emphasize that a comprehen-
sive approach provides the best means for tackling violence in all its forms.
Keywords: gender, political-violence, Latin America.
Género y violencia política en América Latina: Conceptos, debates y soluciones
Resumen: La violencia contra las mujeres en política es cada vez más reconocida alrede-
dor del mundo, pero especialmente en América Latina, como una nueva táctica para im-
pedir la participación política de las mujeres. En este artículo exploramos cómo ha sido
definido este concepto por académicas y activistas en la región, frecuentemente enrmi-
nos de violencia física y psicológica, y usamos datos de globales, así como estudios de va-
rias disciplinas, para expandir este concepto e incluir dos formas adicionales de violencia:
económica y simbólica. Proveemos ejemplos de los cuatro tipos de violencia en países de
América Latina. Posteriormente, consideramos múltiples soluciones que pueden aplicar-
se dada esta definición ampliada. Enfatizamos que un abordaje más amplio es la mejor
manera de combatir la violencia en todas sus formas.
Palabras clave: nero, violencia política, América Latina.
*Mona Lena Krook, associate professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers Univer-
sity, 89 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Tel: +1 848 932 9361. E-mail:
. Juliana Restrepo Sanín, graduate student, Department of Political Science, Rutgers
University, 89 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Tel: +1 848 932 9361.E-mail:
Article received on January 15, 2015, and accepted on July 14, 2015.
126 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
ver the last twenty years, the world has witnessed major shifts towards
greater gender equality in elected office, driven by global and grass-
roots campaigns associating gender balance in political life with a host of
positive implications for democracy and society at large (Krook, 2009;
Krook and True, 2012). More equal representation, supporters argue, is not
only just —women form half the population and thus should occupy half of
all decision-making positions— but also enhances the likelihood that all
citizens’ concerns will be reflected in public policy, in turn sparking greater
citizen engagement with and confidence in political institutions (Phillips,
1995; Schwindt-Bayer and Mishler, 2005). These messages have resonated
in the vast majority of countries, with a variety of measures —most notably,
gender quotas— being adopted with the aim of electing more women
(Krook, 2009).
There is growing awareness, however, that strategies like gender quotas
do not fully level the political playing field. The gendered political envi-
ronments in which they are introduced, for example, can continue to make
it difficult for women to be selected as candidates and to exercise authority
once elected (Bjarnegård, 2013; Krook and Norris, 2014; Puwar, 2004;
Walsh, 2011). Initiatives such as quotas can also trigger various forms of
backlash and resistance to women’s political integration, ranging from ex-
plicit acts of violence and harassment to sexism in media coverage and so-
cial media platforms, directed at women as women with the purpose of
leading them to withdraw from political life (Krook, 2015; Krook and Re-
strepo Sanín, 2014). Such acts pose a serious challenge to democracy when
women are actively prevented from carrying out their campaigns or fulfill-
ing their mandates. Electoral processes are thus effectively nullified, be-
coming subject instead to forces of intimidation and coercion.
The problem of “violence against women in politics,” as these backlash
effects have come to be known, has raised growing concern among interna-
tional non-governmental organizations (ngo) around the world (Bardall,
2011; iKnowPolitics, 2007; Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2014; National
Democratic Institute, 2014; South Asia Partnership International, 2006;
usaid, 2013). This phenomenon, however, has thus far received the great-
est attention in Latin America, where a host of actors —elected women,
journalists, academics, international ngos, and even electoral tribunals—
have sought to render the problem visible and combat it through a variety
of strategies to protect women’s right to participate and better ensure the
integrity of the electoral process. As a result, countries in the region provide
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
mounting evidence of violence against women in politics —and expose a
wide range of potential solutions, including bills in congress to criminalize
these acts. These experiences have the potential to enrich emerging global
discussions, which have not advanced to the same degree in other regions.
Yet data from other countries —as well as insights from related academic
literatures— can also inform developments in Latin America, highlighting
the pervasive nature of this problem and lending greater conceptual preci-
sion to these debates.
We begin in the first section by mapping the “state of the art” across the
region in terms of debates around “political violence and political harass-
ment against women” (violencia política y acoso político hacia las mujeres). We
trace how activists across Latin America have defined this concept, work-
ing inductively from their experiences and observations. We find that the
Bolivian case, where a long grassroots campaign culminated in legal reform
in 2012, was seminal in three respects: giving a name to this phenomenon,
highlighting psychological alongside physical forms of abuse, and develop-
ing legislation to criminalize these behaviors. In the next three sections, we
put these developments in dialogue with global data and research in vari-
ous academic disciplines in an effort to better theorize what violence
against women in politics “is” and, in turn, what steps might be taken to
reduce its impact. Attention to concept formation is vital for both scholars
and activists as a means for understanding and analyzing the world in a
more systematic way, as well as for devising effective solutions to pressing
political problems (Goertz, 2006; Sartori, 1970).
We engage with various academic literatures in the second section, first,
to distinguish violence against women in politics from related concepts like
electoral and political violence and violence against women and, second, to
theorize why such violence occurs and the significance of the particular
forms it takes. In the third section, we incorporate feminist and non-femi-
nist research on violence to argue for an expanded definition of violence
against women in politics that renders explicit two further forms of vio-
lence —economic and symbolic— as well as inter-relations between differ-
ent types. We substantiate this revised framework with examples of all four
kinds of violence from various Latin American countries.
In the fourth section, we consider the theoretical and practical implica-
tions of opting for different definitions. We propose that broadening the
concept to include more dimensions is vital for understanding the nature of
the issue as well as for devising effective solutions. Indeed, this exercise
128 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
reveals widespread resistance to the full political incorporation of women,
both in Latin America and across the world. We conclude by reflecting on
why violence against women in politics should be a concern for citizens, as
well as the larger academic community. Rather than being dismissed as
“normal politics”, we argue, these acts should be understood as efforts to
undermine the civil and political rights of women, threatening broader
prospects for inclusion and democracy and respect for human rights in Lat-
in America and beyond.
Emerging debates in Latin America
Violencia política y acoso político hacia las mujeres describes behaviors that spe-
cifically target women as women to leave politics by pressuring them to step
down as candidates or resign a particular political office. In Latin America,
this concept made its first concrete appearance in Bolivia in 2000, when
local councilwomen convened at a seminar at the Chamber of Deputies to
discuss reports regarding harassment and violence against women in rural
municipalities. Events that ensued from this meeting played a crucial role
across the region in naming this phenomenon, defining its contours in
terms of the types of acts constituting political violence and harassment,
and privileging legal reform as the primary strategy for combating this
growing problem.
The Association of Local Councilwomen of Bolivia (Acobol) has been
the crucial actor in this process. Soon after their first meeting, Acobol
gained a commitment in 2001 on the part of Congress to work on legislation
to address the issue. A bill was eventually presented during the 2005-2006
congressional term, as a legislative initiative of civil society joining local
elected women with female parliamentarians and civil society groups
(iKnowPolitics, 2007, p. 16). To aid in this work, Acobol developed a re-
porting process to track cases via a statistical information system. By 2012,
the group had assembled more than 4000 claims from elected women,
mainly in rural areas with indigenous populations, testifying to the role of
harassment and violence in negatively affecting their political work (Obser-
vatorio de Género, 2012, p. 1). The law remained controversial —and in-
deed, was opposed by some indigenous women who argued that it was a
law against men (and, specifically, their sons) (Cabezas Fernández, 2014)
but it was approved in Congress in 2012 after the high-profile murder of
local councilwoman Juana Quispe.
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
The resulting reform, Law 243 against Political Harassment and Vio-
lence against Women,
largely reflects the inductive work of Acobol and
other female politicians and activists to name this phenomenon and iden-
tify its various manifestations. Law 243 protects female candidates, elected
officials, appointees, and those exercising political functions who confront
efforts to prevent their presence in decision-making positions for reasons of
gender. The law defines “political harassment” as “acts of pressure, perse-
cution, molestation, or threats” and “political violence” as “acts and/or
threats of physical, psychological, or sexual violence”, aimed at shortening,
suspending, impeding, or restricting the exercise of a woman’s political po-
sition, or inducing a woman, against her will, to commit an act or fail to do
something related to her political mandate. Article 8 enumerates a long list
of behaviors constituting harassment and violence against women in the
political realm. Interestingly, while the legislation mentions physical and
sexual acts, all of the examples given in this article fall under the heading of
psychological violence, presumably because there may be less consensus
that these actions constitute acts of “violence.”
The behaviors enumerated in Article 8 include imposing, due to gender
stereotypes, tasks unrelated to the job itself;
giving women erroneous or
imprecise information leading to the inadequate exercise of their func-
tions; preventing appointed or elected women from attending sessions or
other activities involving decision-making; providing false or incomplete
information to electoral authorities regarding the identity or sex of can-
impeding or restricting a woman’s re-nomination or election when
she uses her office correctly; restricting a woman’s ability to speak in ses-
sions, committees, or other meetings inherent in her job; restricting or im-
peding women from assuming office who have been elected through the
procedures of indigenous or Afro-Bolivian groups; imposing unjustified
sanctions that restrict a woman’s exercise of her political rights; applying
illegal economic sanctions or withholding women’s salaries; divulging per-
sonal and private information to force women to resign or request a leave
See full text here:
What is meant by this phrase is not made explicit in the law, but interviews by one co-author
with women in Latin America indicates that this might include making coffee or performing
secretarial tasks for colleagues.
In previous elections, political parties had attempted to circumvent the gender quota law by
“misspelling” the male names on their candidate lists to appear as if they were female.
130 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
from their positions; spreading false information with the objective of dis-
crediting a woman’s leadership and obtaining her resignation or leave of her
position; forcing women to resign their positions; and obligating elected
women —through force or intimidation— to sign documents or take deci-
sions against their will.
The law recognizes that such acts can be committed by one or more
people, directly or through third parties, against female candidates and
public officials as well as members of their families. Violations can be
denounced by the victim, her relatives, or any other person, in verbal or
written form. Penalties include two to five years of prison for political har a-
ssment, three to eight years for physical or psychological violence, and the
prevailing sanction for sexual assault according to the criminal code. Ag-
gravating factors that may increase these penalties include: 1) acts commit-
ted against a pregnant woman, someone older than 60, with limited
education, or with a disability; 2) acts committed by a person in a leadership
position in a political party, a citizen movement, or the public service, or if
the person has recommitted acts of political harassment or violence against
women; and 3) acts committed by two or more people. Parties responsible
for implementing this law comprise the ministry of justice, the electoral
authorities, and leaders at different levels of government.
Prior to this path-breaking reform, debates in Bolivia already played a
role in initiating broader discussions across the region. In 2007, soon after
the legislative initiative was presented, the 10
Regional Conference on
Women in Latin America and the Caribbean signed the Quito Consensus
acknowledging the issue on a broader scale for the first time. Attendees
agreed as a group to move to “adopt legislative measures and institutional
reforms to prevent, sanction, and eradicate political and administrative ha-
rassment against women who achieve decision-making positions through
election or appointment, both at the national and local levels, as well as in
political parties and movements”,
A project funded by the Spanish Agency
for International Cooperation and Development with the support of un
Women was subsequently carried out in four countries —Costa Rica, El
Salvador, Ecuador and Bolivia— with the goal of enriching the theoretical
discussion on this particular theme through empirical case studies. The re-
sult of this inductive work has been to identify additional behaviors consti-
tuting political harassment and violence against women, like deliberating
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
failing to notify women of the day, place, and time of political meetings; hid-
ing or not delivering correspondence; denying resources necessary to be an
effective representative; and publicly disrespecting, ridiculing, and disqual-
ifying the proposals made by women (Herrera, Arias and García, 2011).
In more recent years, female deputies and senators in a growing number
of countries have proposed bills on the issue. In 2011, at the same time that
the proposal was being considered in Bolivia, a bill on political harassment
and violence was presented in Ecuador by Lourdes Tibán Gualá, a female
member of the National Assembly. The bill alluded to various constitu-
tional articles —state commitments to guarantee real equality, citizens’
right to a life free of violence, principles of non-discriminationand made
note of some of the challenges that women face when contemplating run-
ning for office, like fewer economic resources and traditional gender roles,
which together prevent women from becoming candidates. Despite these
elements, this bill was otherwise very similar to the Bolivian bill in using
the terms harassment and violence, classifying acts in terms of physical and
psychological violence (although also adding “verbal violence”), and intro-
ducing aggravating factors like the pregnancy or minority status of targets
and leadership roles of perpetrators. The bill was supported by nine other
members of Congress, but the proposal was archived when it was deemed
to be redundant with a proposal to reform the penal code recognizing the
crime of political harassment, albeit without a gender dimension.
A similar proposal found greater, albeit only partial, success in Mexico,
where senator Lucero Saldaña presented a bill to this effect in November
2012. The bill explicitly referenced the Bolivian law on political harass-
ment and violence against women, with many phrases taken directly from
the original text. The Mexican proposal differed primarily in seeking to
reform existing legislation —in this case, the Law on Womens Access to a
Life Free from Violence and the Federal Electoral Coderather than pro-
posing a free-standing bill. The language and aims were otherwise the
same, however: to criminalize acts of physical, psychological and sexual
violence, perpetrated against one or more women seeking to impede their
access to or carry out a position of political representation. The bill was ap-
proved by a unanimous vote in the Senate in March 2013, but was ulti-
mately not taken up in the Chamber of Deputies. The issue nonetheless
remained on the political agenda, with various events organized in 2014 on
Personal communication with Lourdes Tibán, May 2014.
132 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
the topic, engaging the electoral authorities, the federal women’s institute,
and leaders and representatives from the various political parties. In April
2015, in the run-up to the June elections, the Senate issued an opinion call-
ing on the National Electoral Institute, as well as the National Council on
Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination, to intervene to respond to the
rising number of cases of political violence against women being reported to
the local electoral tribunals. The latter issued an urgent appeal to the politi-
cal parties and distributed a guide for elections without discrimination.
Bills have also been proposed elsewhere in the region. In February
2013, Verónika Fanny Mendoza Frisch, a female member of the National
Congress in Peru, introduced a bill to tackle political harassment against
women. Although the bill is, again, very similar to the Bolivian law, the
word “violence” does not appear —avoided, according to sources,
due to
its association with the history of armed conflict in Peru. Co-sponsored by
seven other members of Congress, the bill focuses on violations and threats
to the physical, sexual and psychological integrity of women in politics as
well as their families. It lists many of the same acts previously mentioned,
but adds behaviors like cursing and calling meetings at hours inadequate
for personal security —the latter being an issue that women, more often
than men, may find particularly difficult to navigate. In March 2015, the bill
passed the committee stage and was put on the National Assembly agenda,
but it has not yet been debated. The president of the national elections
authority joined calls for this reform, noting that in the 2015 elections at
least 40 per cent of female candidates had been victims of harassment.
In March 2013, a bill sponsored by Pilar Porras Zúñiga, a Costa Rican
female deputy, sought as well to prevent and eradicate political harassment
and/or violence against women. This initiative calls attention to the Boliv-
ian example, although it also references discussions in Ecuador. The bill
focuses, again, on physical, sexual and psychological forms of violence and
contains a word-for-word repetition of the Bolivian definition of harass-
ment. Verbal violence, similar to the text in Ecuador, is listed later in the bill.
The aggravating factors listed are nearly identical, albeit with no mention of
ethnic minorities or lack of education. A new element is the bill’s consider-
ation of the impact of psychological violence, which is not restricted to the
Personal communication with Susana Villarán, former mayor of Lima, February 2015.
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
fact that women leave office but also recognizes that —as a result— they
may suffer depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and even suicide. The bill
also specifies a novel punishment, which is that being convicted of such acts
would cause a person to lose an elected or appointed positions, if they hold
one, and to be disqualified from running for public office in the future.
These bills testify to clear diffusion —at least among some countries in
the region— of initiatives to criminalize political harassment and violence
against women. These developments, in turn, have inspired growing inter-
est in the phenomenon among academics in Latin America. A review of
this literature reveals that the vast majority of studies stick closely to the
definitions given in the Bolivian law, adding new examples but staying
within the framework of physical, sexual and psychological manifestations.
As a result, the “psychological” category, in particular, has grown to encom-
pass a massive array of different behaviors that, theoretically, might be bet-
ter described as distinct forms of violence. A few contributions move in this
direction, mentioning —but not necessarily elaborating on— terms like
“symbolic” or “economicviolence (Cerva Cerna, 2014; Lamas and Azuela
Maite, 2009; Machicao Barbieri, 2004; Medina Espino, 2013).
A second notable trend within this body of research is a tendency to have
to explain to participants what political harassment and violence is —after
which many respond by giving a wide range of examples emerging from
their own experiences (Herrera, Arias and García, 2011; Incer Brenes, 2014;
Machicao Barbieri, 2004). This exercise has the effect of reinforcing existing
classification schemes, at the same time that these prior categories need to
be “stretched” in order to accommodate a more diverse group of acts. Con-
sequently, an opportunity is missed to draw on this rich qualitative data to
“speak back” to and further elaborate prevailing frameworks via additional
inductive analysis, developing a more nuanced and multifaceted concep-
tion of this phenomenon. Remaining close to the example of the Bolivian
legislation, moreover, may lead academics and practitioners to over-empha-
size legal reform as the primary answer, overlooking the many other poten-
tial strategies that might be pursued alongsideor in lieu of— legislation.
Definitions and concepts
Alongside discussions in Latin America, activists working on the ground in
other regions have identified a strikingly similar set of practices which they
labelviolence against women in politics”. A report by South Asia Partner-
134 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
ship International (2006), for instance, talks about acts perpetrated to hin-
der, punish or deprive women of their right to participate in politics. They
identify physical acts like beating, pushing, molestation, sexual abuse,
rape, kidnapping and murder. They also list types of psychological vio-
lence, like threats, harassment, verbal abuse, coercion, character assassina-
tion and threats against family members. Strikingly, the group frames
violence against women in politics as a specifically South Asian problem,
with no references to trends elsewhere.
Budding awareness of the cross-regional nature of this problem inspired
the International Knowledge Network on Women in Politics to organize an
on-line discussion on the issue in 2007 to engage politicians and activists
from multiple regions. This exercise yielded further examples, including
domestic violence, media harassment, defamation and slander, economic
control, and targeting of relatives and supporters (iKnowPolitics, 2007).
These discussions, however, much like those in Latin America, have pro-
ceeded with little reference to academic research on related phenomena,
making it unclear how violence against women in politics is similar or dif-
ferent to seemingly associated concepts like political and electoral violence
and violence against women. Drawing in this academic work not only helps
to delineate the boundaries of this new concept, but also provides insights
into why such violence occurs —and thus the broader meaning behind
these acts for women, politics, and society.
Political and electoral violence
Political violence in elections, or electoral violence, has been defined as
“any random or organized act or threat to intimidate, physically harm,
blackmail, or abuse a political stakeholder in seeking to determine, delay,
or otherwise influence an electoral process” (Fischer, 2001, p. 3). It gen-
erally takes one of two forms: cases of ethnic or communal conflict where
incidents of violence occur or increase around election times, and in-
stances where actors use violence to shape election results through acts
like ballot rigging and interfering with voter and candidate registration
processes (Höglund, 2009). Although men and women may be the targets
of electoral violence, data from the International Foundation for Elec-
toral Systems of more than 2000 cases of electoral violence in six countrie s
between 2006 and 2010 reveal distinct patterns in the types of violence
experienced: men were most likely to suffer physical harm, while women
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
were primarily the victims of intimidation or psychological abuse (Bar-
dall, 2011, p. 13).
Simply gendering existing definitions of electoral violence, recognizing
that women and men may experience similar and distinct forms of vio-
lence, does not, however, capture acts and threats perpetrated against fe-
male candidates, activists, and voters as women. Such attacks may be carried
out in the election contexts, but may also occur in the three contexts of vio-
lence against women: family, community and state (usaid, 2013). Bardall
(2011) thus proposes “violence against women in elections” as a broader
field of practices than normally recognized within the literature on elec-
toral violence, overlapping with but also extending this concept in new di-
rections. She argues that such violence includes familial or social
intimidation in private spaces, sexist rhetoric and harassment to inhibit and
intimidate female candidates and activists, and verbal attacks on female
politicians to diminish their personal credibility and question their compe-
tence for political office based on the fact that they are women.
Violence against women
Research on violence against women is similarly divided as to whether to
limit the term “violence” to acts involving physical harm, or whether to ex-
tend it to a wider range of aggressive behaviors. Arguments in favor of nar-
row definitions suggest terms like “abuse” to describe non-physical acts of
aggression (Kilpatrick, 2004). However, a growing number of researchers
and government agencies contend that violence is multidimensional and is
better characterized in terms of a continuum of violent acts (DeKeseredy,
2000). The International Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against
Women (1993) describes violence against women as “any act of gender-
based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or
psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts,
coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in
private life”. Global campaigns arguing that “women’s rights are human
rights” thus focus centrally on violence against women as an affront to hu-
man dignity “distinctly connected to being female(Bunch, 1990, p. 486).
This is not to deny that women may be the targets of violence in society,
with few gendered implications. Violence committed against women as
women, however, takes on additional significance as a form of gender role
enforcement, as a means of domination and control to subordinate women
136 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
as a group (Donat and D’Emilio, 1992). Being female explains both why
violence occurs and the particular forms that it takes, with violence against
women being used as a mechanismto keep women in their place, to limit
opportunities to live, learn, work, and care as full human beings, to hamper
their capabilities to organize and claim their rights” (O’Connell, 1993, p.
iii). In many societies, such practices are naturalized, including through
gender stereotyping, leading them to be viewed as “non-political” and to
remain largely underreported (Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). Yet violence
against women is a problem in all countries, affecting women in every so-
cio-economic group and life stage (True, 2012).
Violence against women in politics
Violence against women in politics, we contend, is a subset of violence
against women and is slightly distinct from violence against women in elec-
tions. Whereas the latter includes acts during electoral periods directed at
women as candidates, voters and activists, violence against women in poli-
tics is perpetrated against female politicians, during electoral campaigns
but also afterwards as women assume political positions. It is vital to recog-
nize at the outset that in all states candidates and elected officials do and
should face criticisms and challenges related to their policy ideas and per-
formance. Freedom of expression, moreover, is a central element in a
healthy democratic society. However, we argue, certain behaviors “cross
the line” from free speech to violence when they are directed at women as
women with the purpose of leading them to withdraw from politics. As such,
while inflicted on a particular woman, these actions are, in effect, directed
at all women.
When female politicians are attacked for their political views al one,
therefore, this is not a case of violence against women in politics. Ambigu ity
emerges, however, due to the fact that the means for attacking female politi-
cians often relies on gendered scripts, focusing on women’s bodies and
their traditional social roles —primarily as mothers and wives— to deny or
undercut women’s competence in the political sphere. When adversaries
rely on gendered imagery or stereotypes to attack female opponents, the
act blends into a case of violence against women in politics, as it suggests
that women per se do not belong in the political realm. These actions can
have a powerful impact, because they are not directed solely towards one
woman. They also seek to intimidate other female politicians, deter wom-
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
en who might consider a political career, and —even more insidiously—
communicate to society as a whole that women should not participate.
In this respect, violence against women in politics shares important
points of contact with hate crimes, using mechanisms of power and oppres-
sion against people with a particular identity as a means to reaffirm what are
perceived to be threatened hierarchies (Perry, 2001). Like hate crimes, acts
of violence against women in politics are “message crimes,” intended to
deny equal access to rights and to create a ripple effect that heightens the
sense of vulnerability among other members of the community (Igan ski,
2001). Yet a key challenge arises, in both cases, from the fact that vict ims
may not experience the same sense of harm. Indeed, some female pol-
iticians may have naturalized these types of behaviors as simply the “cost
of doing politics” —or they may deny the problem, concerned to def lect
charges that they are “hysterical” or “not coping,” in fear of justifying clai-
ms that women do not belong in politics (Gillard, 2014).
Crucial clues as to how and why violence against women in politics oc-
curs can be found in feminist theory, noting an association in many societies
between men and the “public sphere” of politics and the economy and
women with the “private sphere” of home and the family. As feminist
scholars have long observed, this public/private divide underlies many clas-
sic works in political theory which are premised upon the exclusion of
women, removing women from the public sphere as a necessary first step
in theorizing (Okin, 1979; Pateman, 1988). As women enter public life,
therefore, their presence poses a challenge to reigning beliefs and practices
regarding politics as a male domain (Sgier, 2004). Acts of violence against
women in politics seek to reinstate this traditional divide, we suggest, by
compelling women to leave the public sphere or by highlighting their pri-
vate sphere obligations. Women’s bodies —as connected to stereotyped
social rolesthus become a central focus of violence.
Academic studies from a variety of disciplines bolster this interpretation
and provide insights as to why challenges to gender norms are experienced
so viscerally that they inspire intense reactions. Literature on violence
against women finds, for example, that men who express the greatest hos-
tility towards women tend to embrace traditional gender roles, resorting to
violence against women to overcome feelings of insecurity and regain a
sense of power and control (Stermac, Segal and Gillis, 1990). Research in
psychology suggests that both men and women may “punishwomen who
behave counter-stereotypically by aspiring to leadership positions (Rud-
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Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
man and Phelan, 2008), such that they are evaluated more negatively than
male leaders even when they have similar qualifications or levels of perfor-
mance (Eagly and Karau, 2002). Sociologists observe that women’s mere
presence can be unsettling to reigning standards and practices of political
life, precisely because the public realm has been constructed through
women’s exclusion, rendering women highly visible as “space invaders”
(Puwar, 2004). Acts of violence against women in politics thus embody a
form of backlash to women’s greater inclusion in the political sphere, resist-
ing the gains made possible by gender quotas and other mechanisms to
empower women in decision-making (Krook, 2015).
Towards a revised framework
Debates in Latin America, as outlined above, have revolved around two
categories of violence, physical and psychological, with occasional mention
of sexual and verbal violence. These discussions, however, are rarely in-
formed by academic research, at the same time that greater awareness of
this concept has led to a proliferation of examples included under each
category. Placing these developments in dialogue with the incipient global
evidence —assembled using print and on-line news stories, ngo reports,
academic research and original interviews— reveals striking continuities in
these behaviors across regions, attesting to the widespread nature of this
phenomenon. These patterns suggest that further work on concept forma-
tion might not only enhance academic analyses of violence against women
in politics, but could also inform how activists understand the issue, better
capturing the full range of behaviors seeking to drive women from politics
in Latin America and beyond.
Integrating both feminist and non-feminist research on violence, to-
gether with the global data, we propose an expanded definition of violence
against women in politics that 1) collapses physical and sexual forms of vio-
lence into a single category of physical violence and 2) divides the unwieldy
existing category of psychological violence to distinguish between psycho-
logical, economic, and symbolic violence. This schema recognizes, however,
that the boundaries between types are somewhat porous, with specific be-
haviors potentially falling into several categories. At the same time, multi-
ple forms of violence may be perpetrated simultaneously or in an escalating
fashion. These overlaps, we suggest, strengthen the case for connecting
these various acts under a single umbrella concept. Emphasizing continu-
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
ities across different manifestations of violence against women in politics,
moreover, acknowledges that distinct cultures may provide different
“tools” for disciplining women, giving meaning to particular actions, as
well as conditioning the degree to which such behaviors are normalized.
Viewed globally, two trends emerge across these incidents of violence,
further linking the types together and offering deeper appreciation of the
perceived costs to women in pursuing a political career. First, women’s sex-
uality is a potent symbol. Threats of rape tap into beliefs that women are
vulnerable to —and can be punished through— acts of sexual assault.
Questions about their sexuality morality are not unusual, with female politi-
cians facing “accusations of being a prostitute, a lesbian, or otherwise sinful
and/or sexually deviant” (Bardall, 2013, p. 3), including having extramarital
affairs —charges that can destroy them personally and politically. Second,
distinct from “regular” political violence committed by political oppo-
nents, acts against women in politics, similar to violence against women in
general, may originate from varied corners. Evidence reveals that aggres-
sion may spring from society, like a woman’s family, friends and community
or religious leaders, as well as the media; the political sector, including col-
leagues and leaders from opposing parties as well as a woman’s own party,
and extending in some cases to civil servants and members of the executive
branch; and state actors like security forces and the police (sap Internatio-
nal, 2006).
Physical violence
We classify physical violence in terms of acts affecting the bodily integrity
of a woman, as well as bodily harm to her family members when she is the
target. This definition thus encompasses sexual violence, although it is of-
ten listed separately from physical violence in some laws and conventions
on violence against women —most likely to emphasize this issue as an es-
pecially important one for women. The empirical evidence indicates that
physical violence may be perpetrated by outsiders, like activists from other
parties, but it may also be inflicted by rivals within a woman’s own party or
even members of her own family. It is distinguished from other acts of
This approach is consistent with theories of feminist institutionalism (Krook and Mackay,
2011), highlighting the gendered nature of political institutions, and thus the institutional envi-
ronments that may “normalize” and “legitimize” these acts of violence because women are seen
as interlopers in these spaces.
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Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
physical violence in politics by its goal to prevent a woman’s participation
as a woman, not as an individual or party member per se. As such, despite
these very personalized experiences of abuse, victims of violence against
women in politics are largely “interchangeable.
There are abundant examples of this and other forms of violence, even
when limiting the discussion to Latin America. Assassination is perhaps the
most obvious manifestation of physical violence. In Mexico, a female can-
didate for municipal president, Guadalupe Ávila Salinas, was shot in broad
daylight in 2004 by the sitting municipal president while she was holding a
meeting with women from the community. According to a male federal
deputy from the region, it was only the latest in a series of efforts among
civil servants in the town to “quiet the voices of women.” Despite wit-
nesses, local police did little to capture the perpetrator and dismissed alle-
gations that the murder was politically motivated (Jarquín Edgar, 2004).
Women’s family members may also come in harm’s way: in Oaxaca, an as-
sassination attempt against a female candidate for congress ended up kill-
ing her husband and injuring her and her niece (efe, 2013). Other threats to
women’s physical integrity include kidnapping and beating. Another mu-
nicipal president in Mexico, for instance, was kidnapped by her political
opponents and her husband, following a campaign by members of her own
party and the opposition to force her to give up her positionfirst by start-
ing rumors about her being unfaithful to her husband, and later through
less veiled threats at the hand of a machete. The council members who
supported her told her this was happening “because you are a woman.” A
third municipal president received kidnapping threats against her children,
causing her to move them to her brother’s house, and later she and her son
were attacked by a crowd in a confrontation with a man who wanted to be-
come municipal president in her place (Vásquez García, 2011).
Psychological violence
Psychological violence inflicts trauma on the mental state or emotional
well-being of individuals, creating anxiety, depression, and stress. We de-
fine it here to include threats of physical violence, as well as acts intended
to socially harm the woman in question. The limited data on violence
against women in politics indicates that this may be a tool particularly di-
rected at female politicians (Bardall, 2011). Death and rape threats are un-
fortunately not uncommon. In Colombia, a female staff member for the
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
mayor of Bogotá was sexually harassed, including by male staffers who
threatened to rape and kill her, and accused of having an affair with the
mayor (Hoyos et al., 2014). Sexual harassment of women in politics is also
often normalized, treated as appropriate behavior within political institu-
tions. In El Salvador and Costa Rica, respondents reported that cat calling
was used as a manipulation strategy by men to denigrate women who did
not do as the men wanted (Escalante and Méndez, 2011; Herrera, Arias and
García, 2012).
In other cases, female politicians are subject to character assassination.
In Mexico, an indigenous councilwoman who denounced corruption in
her town was herself threatened and falsely accused of being corrupt (La-
mas and Maite, 2009). In a more oblique fashion, a local councilor in Costa
Rica reported that she had received threats and been accused of negli-
gence towards her father. At the same time, villagers would inquire about
the state of the cleanliness of her house and yard (Herrera, Arias and Gar-
cía, 2011). In another case, a woman who became pregnant and another
who took her 4-month-old son to the sessions were told to “go hold and
take care of your baby” (Incer Brenes, 2014). Such accusations that a wom-
an is a bad wife, mother, or daughter can be especially devastating in small
local communities, where families share a dense network of social ties.
False accusations of corruption can also stick more in the collective mem-
ory in small towns, affecting women’s political careers (Medina Espino,
2013; Vásquez García, 2011).
Economic violence
Economic abuse is increasingly recognized as a form of violence against
women (Fawole, 2008). We define economic violence in politics as acts
seeking to control women’s access to, or behavior in, the political realm by
systematically restricting access to economic resources which are other-
wise available to men. The aim is to make political work so difficult or
frustrating that women are led to withdraw of their own accord, or to re-
duce the chances that women can do their jobs effectively, thus affecting
their future political careers. Lack of financial support, the global evi-
dence suggests, may pose greater barriers to women than men in politics,
as women often lack access to the formal and informal networks that sup-
ply campaign funds or the personal resources to compensate for denied
expense claims (Sidhu and Meena, 2007). As such, gender inequalities in
142 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
access to resources in society more generally can exacerbate acts to with-
hold funds from women, necessary for conducting their campaigns or day-
to-day political work.
Some might argue that economic violence —and symbolic violence,
discussed below— should not be considered at the same level as physical
and psychological violence. Indeed, they are the two forms of violence that
may generate the least cross-cultural consensus as forms of “violence” at
all. Yet studies show that coercive control —a hallmark of economic vio-
lence— may feel worse than physical violence for many women. Coercive
control includes efforts to “hurt, humiliate, intimidate, exploit, isolate and
dominate” victims, a key strategy being the denial or appropriation of eco-
nomic resources (Stark, 2007, p. 5). Acts of economic and symbolic violence
are also rarely isolated behaviors, but elements in a larger pattern of aggres-
sions that together have the effect of creating a hostile work environment
for female politicians.
Economic violence is rarely named explicitly in the Latin American
literature on political harassment and violence (an exception is Medina Es-
pino, 2013), but examples are rife among the many lists of examples that
have been generated, including in the widely influential Bolivian legisla-
tion, under the category of “psychological violence”. Instances of econom-
ic violence can start in the pre-candidate stage. In Mexico, a 2008 reform
sought to stimulate women’s political participation by requiring parties to
earmark 2 per cent of their public funding to activities supporting women’s
leadership development. However, when accounts were reviewed in 2011,
it became apparent that funds were applied for other purposes, like clean-
ing supplies, stationery, and fumigation services (Romero, 2011). Even af-
ter a set of guidelines were issued by the Federal Electoral Institute in
2013, party officials openly asked its auditors how they might avoid using
the earmark. Meanwhile, womens groups inside the parties express anger
and frustration at their inability to access these funds.
Similar problems
with earmarked training funds for women have also been noted in Costa
Rica, with parties being unwilling to report how they have spent this mon-
ey (Incer Brenes, 2014).
When women run for office, economic violence can entail denying
women, but not men, the financial resources necessary to wage successful
campaigns. Women in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico express frustra-
Interviews in Mexico City in May and July 2014.
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Gender and political violence in Latin America
tions that not only did they lack financial support for their campaigns, but
also that such resources were not equally distributed within the parties
among women and men (Herrera, Arias and García, 2012; Incer Brenes,
2014; Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, 2009). Data
from the Federal Electoral Tribunal in Brazil show in stark terms that
female candidates systematically get fewer funds than male candidates
across all parties (Sacchet and Speck, 2012).
In Panama, female candi-
dates complain that the rules for accessing party funds remain hidden to
them, at the same time that their campaign materials are destroyed, further
reducing their scarce resources (Hoyos et al., 2014).
Once they gain political office, women can face additional economic
challenges, the most dramatic and costly being the denial of their salaries
and expense claims, sometimes for more than one year, as occurred in Bo-
livia (Corz, 2012). In Peru, one woman also reported that her husband de-
nied her money after she became a councilwoman (Quintanilla, 2012).
However, the most common tactic across the region appears to be refusal to
reimburse travel claims for expenses incurred while performing the work of
an elected official, like traveling to rural areas to meet constituents or at-
tending meetings and courses with state and constituent women’s groups,
as reported by women in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru (Es-
calante and Méndez, 2011; Herrera, Arias and García, 2012; Incer Brenes,
2014; Medina Espino, 2013; Quintanilla, 2012; Vásquez García, 2011).
Elected women may also confront difficulties in gaining the most basic
resources to do their jobs. In Costa Rica, for instance, a number of elected
women were not supplied with offices or even a telephone, in contrast to
their male colleagues (Sidhu and Meena, 2007). In addition, many female
vice-mayors —elected in part due to a gender parity law requiring that
mayors and vice-mayors be of opposite sexes— find that they are denied a
budget by male mayors who do not set clear duties for their vice-mayors. A
councilwoman in Peru protested that she had been refused an office, even
though the town had space for offices and the men on the council had re-
ceived offices (Quintanilla, 2012). Women in various countries testified, as
a result, to having to use their own money to do their jobs, even when other
members of the council did not —having received offices, phones, and
even cars as members of the local council (Escalante and Méndez, 2011;
Herrera, Arias and García, 2012).
Interviews in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo in October and November 2014.
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Symbolic violence
Symbolic violence operates at the level of portrayal and representation,
seeking to erase or nullify women’s presence in political office. Such be-
haviors are only peripherally theorized as “violence” in existing ngo re-
ports on violence against women in politics. Yet recent studies on misogyny
and sexist media coverage lend support for conceptualizing certain activi-
ties as forms of aggression, harassment and outright discrimination (Perks
and Johnson, 2014; Sawer, 2013). These acts, we argue, cannot be reduced
to healthy media criticism or “normal” rude behavior by colleagues and
opponents. Negative treatment “crosses the line” and becomes violence
when it entails fundamental disrespect for human dignity, like producing
and distributing highly sexualized and derogatory images, using social me-
dia to incite violent acts, or not recognizing, or explicitly denying the exis-
tence of, a female politician for the simple fact of being a woman.
“Symbolic violence” was theorized by Bourdieu (1984) as discipline
used against another to confirm that individual’s placement in a social hier-
archy. As such, symbolic violence can be more powerful than physical vio-
lence because it is culturally embedded, making these forms of violence
look or feel “right” (Galtung, 1990). Consequently, targets are often “com-
plicit” with these acts, modifying behaviors and aspirations accordingly, but
not viewing these forms of discipline as tools of domination per se. As Krais
(1993, p. 172) notes, symbolic violence can be effective in sustaining wom-
en’s oppression because it is “subtle, euphemized, invisible”, such that
even when some women recognize these acts as exercises of power, they
may not be believed, even in societies with greater levels of gender equal-
ity. Due to the great diversity of cultures in the world, the form and content
of symbolic violence vary more widely than the three other types, but it is
present in all types of society.
Symbolic violence against women in politics seeks to delegitimize fe-
male politicians through gendered tropes denying them competence in the
political sphere. Extensive research, for example, shows that women are
often framed in the media as not viable, competent, or suited to higher of-
fice, with more attention paid to their appearance than their policy posi-
tions (Carlin and Winfrey, 2009). In Colombia, the qualifications of female
politicians have been questioned on multiple occasions for the simple fact
that they were women occupying positions like attorney general or minis-
ter of defense that have traditionally been occupied by men (Hoyos et al.,
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Gender and political violence in Latin America
2014). In Mexico, banners referring to a female gubernatorial candidate in
Sonora stated that women did not belong in the governor’s mansion but
rather should be “pregnant and in a corner.”
Rather than being viewed as discriminatory, such coverage may be un-
derstood as the “cost of doing politics,” with disparate treatment of men
and women seen as “normal”. Symbolic violence is perhaps most evident,
however, when it involves sexual objectification, like highly sexualized
media and social representations —or even the off-color remarks of politi-
cal leaders. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has made several com-
ments referring to the “pretty legs” of female assembly members, saying
that gender equality had improved politics when there were so many wom-
en wearing mini-skirts. Social media has provided new opportunities to
step up such attacks, as occurred in Honduras to Congresswoman Beatriz
Valle, who reported receiving numerous obscene and sexualizing com-
ments and threats via Twitter (Hoyos et al., 2014).
Other forms of symbolic violence seek to render women invisible as
political actors. This “invisibilization” can be literal. In Mexico, the mu-
nicipal president of Oaxaca tore up the ballots certifying the victory of Eu-
frosina Cruz as the new municipal president in 2007, stating “women do
not exist here”, a reference to indigenous “uses and customs” that —he
claimed— prevented women from holding positions of political authority
in the community. She was also subject to rumors that she was mentally ill
and had problems with her parents.
In a related fashion, a woman in Costa
Rica was asked by the party leadership to be second on its list; second, they
suggested, because it was not right for a woman to be first on the list (Es-
calante and Méndez, 2011). In Honduras, a female member of Congress
recalls that, while other members of her party had a seats and plaques with
their names in the chamber, she did not and had to “jump from chair to
chair” when attending sessions (Hoyos et al., 2014). Women can also be
rendered invisible in a more figurative sense. A common strategy, wit-
nessed in countries like Costa Rica and Mexico, is to appropriate women’s
contributions, projects, or ideas, either discussing them without her —and
not presenting them as her initiatives— or not recognizing them unless a
man proposes them, who in turn is given all the credit (Barrera-Bassols,
2014; Incer Brenes, 2014).
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Women’s voices can be actively silenced when they finally do have the
opportunity to speak. In Honduras, the president of Congress repeatedly
denied Deputy Doris Gutiérrez the right to speak, in response to which she
eventually covered her mouth with a handkerchief in protest, an act cov-
ered extensively by the press (Hoyos et al., 2014). In other cases, women’s
microphones are cut off while they are speaking, as has been reported in
Costa Rica (Escalante and Méndez, 2011), Ecuador (Arboleda, 2012) and
Bolivia (Machiao, 2012). Female politicians in various countries like Costa
Rica, El Salvador and Mexico also report difficulties in asserting their au-
thority, which may be undermined by male subordinates, like civil servants
or council members, when the women is a mayor, who refuse to be ruled by
a woman (Barrera-Bassols, 2014; Escalante and Méndez, 2011).
Women may be rendered invisible, finally, by conflicts over the language
used to address female leaders. These issues are raised in an acute form in
countries where national languages —as they do in Latin America— take
gendered forms, with opponents deliberately, and often provocatively, re-
fusing to use feminine nouns. In Brazil, president Dilma Rousseff, like her
counterparts in Argentina and Chile, has adopted the title “Presidentabut
the two main television channels continue to call her “presidente”. As in
similar debates in France and Italy, opponents justify their behavior by ap-
pealing to male-centered rules of grammar, reinforcing the notion that
these positions cannot, and should not, be feminized. These conflicts also
appear when referring collectively to members of congress as “señores
diputados,” language which has the effect of erasing women’s presence
from political institutions. While some chambers in the region have ad-
opted more inclusive language, as in Mexico, where both masculine and
feminine forms —diputadas y diputados, senadoras y senadores— are used
when speaking to all,
others like the 2006-2010 legislature in Costa Rica
have been prevented from using inclusive language in legislative texts by
parliamentary administrators and language experts (Palmieri, 2011).
Interrelated violence
Our typology distinguishes four types of violence, but specific manifesta-
tions may be interrelated in at least two ways. First, one act may be attrib-
uted multiple meanings, due to different possibilities in terms of how it
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
may be experienced or interpreted, by its target or by other observers. An
example is the sexualizing images and comments that one Congresswoman
in Honduras saw posted on her Twitter account. Received and read di-
rectly by her, these attacks could be framed as a type of psychological vio-
lence, leading her to feel isolated and disappointed in her political career
—as she herself has reported (Hoyos et al., 2014). Committed in the public
space of Twitter, however, such acts could also be classified as symbolic vi-
olence, portraying her as a sexual object with the message that women are
of little worth in politics.
Second, acts of violence may escalate over time, defying simple classi-
fication, but also substantiating our intuition that these various forms of
violence should be understood as part of a shared field of practices, rather
than as isolated incidents. In Peru, a local councilwoman who revealed the
corruption of the mayor was verbally abused and physically assaulted
when she was pregnant, resulting in the premature birth of her child. The
mayor, who was also an obstetrician at the local hospital, changed her med-
ical history and told her that she would pay for the wrongs she had done to
him, pointing out that “everyone who has wronged me is now dead”. His
allies then posted pictures of her baby on Facebook, suggesting that the
girl was in fact the mayor’s daughter.
In this instance, therefore, the
councilwoman in question was initially subjected to physical and psycho-
logical violence. When this did not work, opponents moved on to sym-
bolic attacks to impugn her character, as well as harm her family, including
a minor child.
Perhaps the best-known example of escalation, however, is the case of
Juana Quispe, a local councilwoman in Bolivia, whose assassination pre-
cipitated passage of the 2012 law. In this instance, physical violence was
the culmination of a series of prior psychological, economic and symbolic
aggressions. Soon after being elected, Quispe was harassed and pressured
to resign by the mayor, his supporters, and various council members.
When she did not, they changed the times of the meetings and refused
her entrance to the sessions. When this failed, they suspended her from
her position. When she was reinstated after a seven-month legal battle,
she was denied the salary from the time she was suspended, on the pretext
that she was not present during the council sessions. One month later, she
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Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
was found murdered. In spite of the evidence, the police claim that she
was murdered in an attempted robbery, further ignoring and rendering
invisible the violence she suffered because of her work in politics (Acobol,
2012; Corz, 2012).
Concepts and practical solutions
Concept formation matters because it can restrict or expand how a particu-
lar problem is understood, in turn shaping the scope of action for develop-
ing solutions. Theorizing physical and psychological forms of violence,
campaigns in Latin America have largely focused on legislation as the pri-
mary answer to the rising problem of violence against women in politics.
Our expanded conceptualization —incorporating the four dimensions of
physical, psychological, economic, and symbolic violence— suggests that
legislative initiatives may not suffice to realize commitments to recognize,
incorporate, and empower women as political actors. Rather, multiple str-
ategies pursued simultaneously by state and civil society actors may be
r equi red in order to address these various manifestations of resistance, high-
lighting the need for a more comprehensive approach.
This is not to dismiss the potential of legal reforms, which may play an
important role in naming and calling for action on a particular policy prob-
lem. The experiences of a female staff member working in the office of the
mayor of Bogotá highlight the need for explicit legislation to combat holes
in existing legislation —and the idea that such behaviors are “normal” in
politics. Rape threats by a member of the mayor’s staff could not be prose-
cuted, it was argued, because they were not made from a work phone, thus
it could not be considered sexual harassment in the workplace. The threats
also could not be treated as a case of violence against women, because they
did not constitute “domestic violence” per se. Her colleagues told her, fur-
ther, that she could not come to the office to do her work and pressured her
to give up her position.
Her frustrations in this case reveal the importance
of creating a legal framework to ensure that women can fulfill their duties
as public officials.
To date, however, it must also be mentioned that the Bolivian law, wh ich
has inspired similar proposals in other countries across the region, has not
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
achieved its innovative goals. Of more than nearly 300 cases lodged by
Acobol, only one case (that of local councilwoman Magda Haase Pérez)
has been successful. After she reported that she had been coerced by six
council members and the mayor to renounce her seat, the Supreme El-
ectoral Tribunal ruled that she had been a victim of violence against wom-
en in politics and she was then reinstated to her seat. A key difficulty in
ensuring compliance with the law is that local police tend to attribute
these types of acts to “general insecurity” rather than to violence stem-
ming from discrimination against women in the political sphere. In an
effort to ensure that this legislation is respected, Acobol has initiated a
project to monitor implementation of the law and push for the timely reso-
lution of cases.
While physical violence may be most appropriately addressed through
legal channels, the other three forms of violence against women in politics
—psychological, economic and symbolic— may require other types of in-
terventions, alongside or separately from legislative proposals. While gen-
erally receiving less attention, there are examples of other initiatives in the
region —and globally— that might serve as additional inspiration for cam-
paigns across Latin America. To generate public awareness and support for
change, civil society groups can create partnerships and networks to moni-
tor, document and address violence against women in politics. In Ecuador,
for example, the Association of Women at the Municipal Level collected
testimonies from local female politicians to propose draft legislation, speak-
ing to 100 town councilors and civil society representatives in 2007. The
network also set up a call center to provide free advice from legal and po-
litical advisers, as well as to gather further testimonies, recognizing that the
lack of data contributes to denial of the problem (ndi, 2014).
In addition to working to secure public pledges from political elites to
ensure women’s safety during elections, gender equality concerns can be
integrated into electoral observation missions (Muñoz-Pogossian, 2013).
The National Democratic Institute, notably, has begun to address gen-
der-based electoral violence in its electoral observation analysis and re-
porting, as well as to share strategies to mitigate it during training sessions
for female candidates (ndi, 2014). Political funding initiatives provide an
opportunity to counteract the economic violence that women may con-
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Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
front at the candidate stage. Countries in various regions have established
incentives for parties to nominate and/or elect more women (Krook and
Norris, 2014), a recent example being Chile, which introduced a financial
bonus for electing women as part of a broader package of electoral reform
approved in early 2015.
Symbolic violence appears to be one of the most pervasive forms of vio-
lence against women in politics, at the same time that it is one of the most
naturalized. Rendering women more visible and accepted as political ac-
tors may be a tall order, given how deeply gender norms are engrained in
many societies. Within legislative institutions, a promising path is to foster
what the Inter-Parliamentary Union calls a “gender-sensitive parliament”,
rethinking practices and norms of parliament —and politicsfrom a gen-
der equality perspective (Palmieri, 2011). In addition to establishing sexu-
al harassment policies and introducing policies for better work-life
balance, this may entail creating spaces within congressional buildings to
portray and acknowledge women as political actors, combating the ten-
dency to include only statues and portraits of men. In Brazil, for instance,
there are photo exhibitions portraying all the female deputies and female
senators, placed in corridors with extensive traffic by politicians as well as
members of the media and the general public. Similarly, visitors to the
presidential palace, as well as the president’s reelection website,
nently feature the title “presidenta.”
Mobilizing mainstream and social media, finally, may be a powerful
means for exposing and combating violence against women in politics. Pro-
gramming funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development in
several countries, notably, provides gender training for journalists and re-
cruits female reporters to engage in political reporting as a double-pronged
strategy to enhance gender-sensitivity in media coverage, including height-
ened attention to acts of violence against female politicians (Krook et al.,
2014). Social media can be an especially powerful way for citizens as indi-
viduals and as a collectivity to expose acts of violence and garner support
for projects to empower women in politics. Training programs for female
candidates can also address how to decrease vulnerability and respond ef-
fectively to on-line attacks (Bardall, 2013).
In sum, legislative initiatives are only one among many potential strate-
gies that might be deployed to tackle the problem of violence against wom-
Política y gobierno
Gender and political violence in Latin America
en in politics. The need to devise such a comprehensive approach, however,
only becomes fully visible with an expanded definition of this concept. The
perspective advocated here, we propose, is closely in line with how induc-
tive theorizing of this phenomenon has developed in recent years. Academ-
ics and practitioners list practices of economic and symbolic violence with
their definitions of political harassment and violence in Latin America, al-
though they subsume these practices under the larger heading of psycho-
logical violence. We argue that a revised and more precise vocabulary not
only better reflects the larger literature on “violence,” but also opens up
new opportunities to comprehend and articulate the issue at hand —and in
turn, devise more effective interventions to make politics more inclusive of
women, giving them both access and voice within political institutions.
Violence against women in politics is increasingly recognized around the
world —but especially in Latin America— as an emerging tactic to deter
women’s political participation as candidates and elected officials. In this
article, we survey how this concept has been defined by academics and
practitioners across the region, largely in terms of physical and psychologi-
cal violence, and then draw on global data and research in various aca-
demic disciplines to propose expanding this concept to include two
further forms of violence: economic and symbolic. These forms of vio-
lence, we emphasize, are already implicit in many existing definitions of
violence against women in politics but have not yet been theorized as
such. We provide examples of all four types of violence in Latin American
countries and then consider a range of solutions that might be pursued by
state and civil society actors in light of this broader definition. We argue
that a more comprehensive approach provides the best bet for tackling
violence in all its forms.
We contend that attending to these issues is important not only for
women interested in pursuing a political career, but also to citizens and the
academic community more broadly. Female politicians are clearly the ones
most directly affected, with studies by ngos suggesting that incidents of
violence leave women demoralized and excluded from the centers of deci-
sion-making, leading them to be less likely than men to stand for reelec-
tion, or to leave after fewer terms served (Herrera, Arias, and Garcia, 2011;
sap International, 2006). In Bolivia, for example, 48 per cent of the women
152 Política y gobierno VOLUME XXIII · NUMBER 1 · I SEMESTER 2016
Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín
leaving office in 2010 reported being victims of such violence (Acobol,
2012). In contexts where women are already much less likely than men to
consider pursuing a political career (Fox and Lawless, 2005), these experi-
ences can, in turn, depress women’s political ambitions more generally.
These difficulties signal ongoing challenges to women’s access and voice
not easily remedied by the introduction of gender quotas and other tactics
to empower women in the political realm.
Yet the acts that we identify also represent a fundamental violation of
the principles of equality and non-discrimination embedded in legal frame-
works around the globe, highlighting the profound implications of these
acts for protecting core democratic values. Constitutions in over 130 coun-
tries, for example, explicitly guarantee equality between women and
Moreover, Article 7 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elim-
ination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, signed by 188 coun-
tries, states that governments will “ensure to women, on equal terms with
men, the right…to hold public office and perform all public functions at all
levels of government”. Efforts to block women’s inclusion as women thus
can be framed as a core violation of women’s political rights.
Violence against women in politics also poses a threat to core demo-
cratic values. The types of cases pursued by the ipu Committee on the
Human Rights of Parliamentarians,
which are in many ways similar to
acts of violence against women in politics, suggest that such acts may even
qualify as human rights violations —posing a threat both to citizens and to
the integrity of the political system itself. Additionally, international orga-
nizations and national governments recognize the need to adopt or revise
legislation on violence against women, with the United Nations pushing
all states to adopt and enforce, by 2015, laws that address and punish all
forms of such violence. Democracy, finally, is challenged when public of-
ficials are prevented —through intimidation and coercion— from exercis-
ing the functions to which they have been elected or appointed (Herrera,
Arias and García, 2011). Violence against women in politics thus not only
threatens to hollow out national and international commitments to gen-
der-balanced decision-making, but can also affect the integrity of the po-
litical system itself.
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... Violence in the context of an election campaign, targeting political actors such as candidates, also violates electoral integrity (Bjarnegård 2018). While it is well established that women are targets of election violence as political candidates (Acobol 2012;Ballington 2018;Bardall 2011;Cerva Cerna 2014;Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2016a), it is still unclear to what extent and how candidate sex shapes experiences of violence. Analyses of violence against women in politics have, to the best of our knowledge, not explicitly and systematically compared the election violence faced by women and men (see also Bjarnegård 2018). 1 Some interpretations tend to depict election violence targeting women as inherently gendermotivated, primarily affecting women politicians because they are women. ...
... Such interpretations commonly understand acts of violence against women as the embodiment of a backlash to women's increased political participation (see e.g. Krook & Restrepo Sanín 2016a). This perspective implies that interventions should be designed to tackle specific gender-based forms of election violence. ...
... Hitherto, most studies have as their point of departure the rapid increase of women legislators across the globe, to a large extent the result of the expansion of electoral gender quotas (Krook 2015, Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2016a, 2016b, Krook 2017, Hughes, Paxton, and Krook 2017. As a larger number of women have acceded to political office during the last decades, there has been an increase in the number of testimonies and reports from women who have experienced violence or intimidation when pursuing their political work as candidates or representatives (Krook 2018, Krook andRestrepo Sanín 2019). ...
Full-text available
A nascent body of literature has highlighted the violence (broadly defined) that women sometimes face as they enter politics. Some interpretations depict this violence as primarily gender motivated: women politicians are targeted because they are women. Another interpretation is that violence in some contexts is an everyday political practice targeting men and women alike. However, because we lack large-scale, systematic comparisons of men's and women's exposure to election violence, we know little about the extent to which—and how—candidate sex shapes this form of violence. We address this research gap by using original survey data on 197 men and women political candidates in the 2018 Sri Lankan local elections. Sri Lanka is a suitable case for analysis because it is a postconflict country in which political violence has been endemic and the number of women candidates has increased rapidly due to gender quota adoption. Overall, we find large similarities in men's and women's exposure to violence, suggesting that violence sometimes is part of a larger political practice. However, we find that women are exposed to forms of intimidation of a sexual nature more often than men. This finding demonstrates the need for gender-sensitive analyses of election violence.
... VAWIP refers to acts of pressure, harassment, and abuse directed against women in politics to force them to resign from office or make decisions against their will (Krook and Sanín 2016). Although policy positions or ideology may influence which or when women are attacked (Kuperberg 2018), VAWIP is a form of gender-based violence in which women are attacked simply for being women Krook and Sanín 2016). ...
... VAWIP refers to acts of pressure, harassment, and abuse directed against women in politics to force them to resign from office or make decisions against their will (Krook and Sanín 2016). Although policy positions or ideology may influence which or when women are attacked (Kuperberg 2018), VAWIP is a form of gender-based violence in which women are attacked simply for being women Krook and Sanín 2016). explains that while both men and women can be victims of "violence in politics," and violence may take gender-differentiated forms (Bardall, Bjarnegård, and Piscopo 2020), VAWIP is a direct attack on the descriptive representation of women. ...
... Despite the increase in women's descriptive representation, women have faced challenges to their presence. For example, parties have changed the names of men candidates to feminized versionsfor example, Juan to Juanato appear to comply with the quota law (Baldez and Brañez 2005) and used violence and harassment to force women to step down as candidates or once they are elected to office (Krook and Sanín 2016). Women activists in the country have called attention to the need to reach not just descriptive parity but also substantive parity, going beyond including women's bodies to achieve social and cultural transformation (Coordinadora de la Mujer nd; Novillo 2011; Sánchez and Uriona 2014). ...
... Perpetrators intentionally seek to coercively define political outcomes, using methods that violate international norms and/or national laws. Recognizing that political violence acts differently on different sexes, a gendered view of political violence incorporates forms of violence that affect women as well as men, specifically physical (including sexual), economic and socio-psychological violence (Bardall, 2011(Bardall, , 2013(Bardall, , 2015(Bardall, , 2016Krook, 2017;Krook & Restrepo, 2016a, 2016bunga, 2018). As with the classic definition, these acts of violence are interpersonal, recognizable by their motive, timing and targets and exercised consciously by their perpetrators upon victims who resist being harmed. ...
... Further, it is necessary to understand the distinction between the earlier concept of symbolic violence and symbiotic violence. Krook & Restrepo, 2016a, 2016bMachicao, 2004Machicao, , 2011 and was formally added to the academic classification of vawp by Krook (2017). Comprised of acts which "delegitimize female politicians through gendered tropes denying them competence in the political sphere" Krook and Restrepo (2016a) assert that symbolic violence "operates at the level of portrayal and representation, seeking to erase or nullify women's presence in political office" (p. ...
... Krook & Restrepo, 2016a, 2016bMachicao, 2004Machicao, , 2011 and was formally added to the academic classification of vawp by Krook (2017). Comprised of acts which "delegitimize female politicians through gendered tropes denying them competence in the political sphere" Krook and Restrepo (2016a) assert that symbolic violence "operates at the level of portrayal and representation, seeking to erase or nullify women's presence in political office" (p. 144). ...
... An emerging body of research has begun to examine the gendered dimensions of violence and harassment directed against politicians (Bardall 2011;Bjarnegård 2018;Håkansson 2021;Krook 2017Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2016). It recognizes that violence is not limited to physical violence, and that attacks against politicians can instead take a wide variety of forms. ...
... It recognizes that violence is not limited to physical violence, and that attacks against politicians can instead take a wide variety of forms. For example, Krook (2017 and Krook and Sanín (2016) list physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and semiotic violence as different types of violence that women (and men) in politics experience. Psychological violence, which aims to harm the target's mental state and emotional well-being, has been found to be the most common form of violence against women in politics in several contexts (Bardall 2011;Bjarnegård 2018;Bjarnegård, Håkansson, and Zetterberg 2020;Håkansson 2021). ...
Full-text available
Women’s political representation has increased rapidly in the past few decades, but significant barriers continue to circumscribe women’s political participation in a myriad of ways. Previous research has indicated that online abuse constitutes one such obstacle. Yet, only a small number of studies have systematically examined and compared the experiences of online abuse of men and women politicians. We argue that it is not enough to merely state that online abuse is gendered if we wish to understand and tackle such abuse: it is essential to know how it is gendered. In this article we conceptualize gendered online abuse in terms of three dimensions—frequency, character, and consequences—so that we can provide a more comprehensive empirical understanding of its prevalence. Using original survey data and interviews with a large number of Swedish MPs, we demonstrate the merit of unpacking the concept of such abuse in respect to different analytical dimensions. We find all three dimensions to be gendered in the Swedish context but in different and sometimes unexpected ways. Although women do not experience a higher frequency of online abuse than men, the character of the abuse is gendered insofar as women MPs are subjected to more sexualized and gendered harassment. We also find that men exposed to high levels of online abuse seem slightly more inclined to leave politics, whereas women report that they feel that their personal agency is circumscribed to a greater extent.
... Political science research focusing more broadly on the experiences of women politicians also reports on frequent intimidation, harassment, threats, and sexualized language (see examples in Childs, 2001;Krook, 2017;Krook and Sanín, 2016). The gender gap in experiences of psychological forms of violence increases higher up in the political hierarchy, indicating that visibility triggers attacks against women (Håkansson, 2020). ...
... Women candidates were more likely than men candidates to experience election-related threats and sexualized degrading talk and rumors. In the words of Krook and Restrepo Sanín (2016), perpetrators seem to have used gendered scripts as they carried out the attacks, as men and women were targeted in very different ways. The script used for women includes personalized and sexualized disinformation and misinformation as well as direct threats. ...
Full-text available
Research on election violence often does not capture its psychological and gendered dimensions. Gender differences on the continuum of violence, as acknowledged in other fields, are applied here to election violence. Specifically, this article explores ways to unveil the forms of election violence that are hidden from the view of an external observer because they are either not carried out in public or not recognized as violence. Survey data and interview material was collected from men and women political candidates participating in the 2014 national elections in the Maldives. The study concludes that the continuum of violence is relevant for adequately assessing the full range of illegitimate acts used against men and women candidates to affect electoral races. Women candidates in the Maldives were more exposed than men candidates to threats and to verbal and figurative sexualized aggression.
Recent conversations prompted by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have put issues of workplace sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault into the global spotlight. This paper examines how members of the Australian Liberal Party made sense of, and responded to, accusations by female Liberal MPs of bullying and intimidation in their party. Transcripts of media interviews identified by searching the ParlInfo database (between August and September 2018) were analysed using a critical discursive psychology approach. Two discursive repertoires were routinely mobilised in Liberal politicians’ accounts: (1) a gender‐neutral repertoire whereby reported incidents of bullying were argued to apply equally to men and women, and (2) a ‘politics is tough’ repertoire that served to downplay and legitimise bullying and intimidation as normative and unproblematic. We argues that such repertoires functioned to silence talk about the relevance of gender and the persistence of inequality. The bullying and intimidation experienced by women may continue to be the cost of their political engagement unless systemic change occurs that acknowledges the ongoing relevance of gender in politics.
This chapter acknowledges that implementation of UNSCR 1325 does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, the actors mandated to ensure integration and participation of women in peacebuilding processes operate in a political economy space. The chapter demonstrates how the different political regimes influence participation of women in peace and security processes. Issues covered in this chapter include, cultural norms, structural barriers, discriminatory laws and gendered institutions still limit women’s options to run for, and be elected to political office. It highlights the fact that although these trends are global in nature, there are important differences between regions and countries. The chapter is informed by the understanding that gender equality is strongly associated with a country’s degree of democratic consolidation. Thus, an understanding of a nation’s democratic trends is key in the design and implementation of strategies aimed at addressing the impacts of violence against women (VAW). Specifically, this chapter focuses on typologies of democracy, authoritarian regimes, fragile states and how these macro factors affect the fight against violence.
Violence against women in politics encompasses physical, psychological, economic, sexual, and semiotic forms of violence, targeting women because their gender is seen as threatening to hegemonic political norms. Theoretical debates over these categories and empirical applications to global cases often overlook that backgrounds and lived experiences of women in politics can differ considerably. Using the United Kingdom as a case study, in this article I analyze different manifestations of online semiotic violence – violence perpetrated through words and images seeking to render women incompetent and invisible ( Krook 2020 , 187) – against female, religious-minority politicians. Through a qualitative discursive approach, I identify patterns and strategies of violence in an original dataset of Twitter posts that mention the usernames of seven prominent Muslim and Jewish female politicians. Results show that multiply-marginalized politicians are exposed to both sexist and racist rhetoric online. In this case, semiotic violence functions to render women incompetent using racist disloyalty tropes as well as to render women invisible by invalidating their testimonies of abuse.
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The search for causes of sexual aggression has included the examination of many factors, including intra- and interpersonal as well as social and cultural variables. The role of social processes has received considerable attention in this area due to various hypotheses about the relationship between social interaction and sexual aggression.
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This work studies the relationship of women and politics within the framework of the Mexican law on quotas, stressing gender political violence as an explanatory variable of women political underrepresentation. Besides basic information resulting from in-depth interviews and discussion groups, data from the last federal election (2012) are analyzed, and studies on women and political parties in Mexico are reviewed from a critical angle. Research outcomes reveal that the existing dynamics within the political parties -understood as organizations that reproduce traditional gender patterns—represent a crucial variable to explaining the peculiarities of the process through which women can have access to candidatures, and explain their experiences of discrimination, harassment, and violence related to campaigns and parliamentary performance. Also, it is claimed that the implementation of regulatory frameworks aimed at promoting women participation in parliaments depends on the prevailing political party culture in Mexico.
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Constitutional questions about hate crime laws in the United States were settled in the early 1990s. Yet, critics persist in arguing that the laws punish “improper thinking.” In this context, this article addresses the question of the justification of punishing motivation—or bias—behind hate crimes when the type of expression and the thought behind it used to indicate motivation are largely protected. There has been considerable legal scholarship on this question but little empirical investigation of how supporters of legislation respond to the question. The article draws from in-depth interviews carried out with a purposive sample of “elite” informants in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1999. A key theme that emerged was that alleged greater harms inflicted by hate crimes—over and above the harms inflicted by the same underlying but otherwise motivated crimes—justify greater punishment. A conceptualization is provided of alleged harms involved.
Violence against women (VAW) is a prevalent problem with substantial physical and mental health consequences throughout the world, and sound public policy is dependent on having good measures of VAW. This article (a) describes and contrasts criminal justice and public health approaches toward defining VAW, (b) identifies major controversies concerning measurement of VAW, (c) summarizes basic principles in identifying and measuring VAW cases, and (d) recommends changes to improve measurement of VAW. In addition to reviewing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Workshop on Building Data Systems for Monitoring and Responding to Violence Against Women and the World Health Organization World Report on Violence and Health, the article concludes that changes are needed it? the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and National Crime Victimization Survey to improve measurement of rape and sexual assault.
El artículo presenta resultados de una investigación más amplia sobre la incursión de las mujeres en los cargos de síndica y regidora en los cabildos veracruzanos. Se centra en las experiencias de violencia y acoso político recabadas a través de los testimonios de tres síndicas y 29 regidoras asistentes a un Encuentro estatal de mujeres en el cabildo, realizado por el Instituto Veracruzano de las Mujeres con el apoyo de GIMTRAP A.C. en la ciudad de Xalapa en octubre de 2009. Se busca visibilizar y documentar esta grave problemática, dando la voz a las propias actoras, focalizando la mirada no tanto en los obstáculos vividos para llegar al cargo, sino en aquellos que fueron superados para ejercerlo.
The sexual contract? is used in two senses. First, to refer to the book The Sexual Contract (1988) and to Anglo-American societies. The book provides a feminist interpretation of classic theories of an original contract, showing that it has two dimensions, the social contract and a sexual contract, and that the familiar marriage contract and employment contract have been shaped by ideas in the texts. Much has changed today, including marriage law and the economy, but many components of the sexual contract still persist. The second sense refers to the general domination of women by men in any society. The sexual contract is enforced in a variety of forms ranging from legal sanction for powers of husbands to prevention of women earning a living. Men's government of women is one of the most deeply entrenched of all power structures.
This important work constitutes a systematic, nationwide empirical account of the effects of gender on political ambition. Based on data from the Citizen Political Ambition Study, a national survey of 3,800 “potential candidates” conducted by the authors, it relates these findings: --Women, even at the highest levels of professional accomplishment, are significantly less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to run for elective office. --Women are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office. --Women are less likely than men to consider themselves “qualified” to run for office. --Women are less likely than men to express a willingness to run for a future office. According to the authors, this gender gap in political ambition persists across generations, despite contemporary society's changing attitudes towards female candidates. While other treatments of gender in the electoral process focus on candidates and office holders, It Takes a Candidate makes a unique contribution to political studies by focusing on the earlier stages of the candidate emergence process and on how gender affects the decision to seek elective office.