18 Apr 2024

Group plans work to improve safety of female MPs

10:05 pm on 18 April 2024
The Beehive in the evening in Central Wellington

A report has found that women politicians are considerably more likely to face harassment than their male counterparts. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Work is under way on a plan to improve the safety of female MPs as new research shows harassment of elected officials - especially women - is on the rise.

An University of Otago report that looked at the issue has found 98 percent of respondents reported some form of harassment; up from 87 percent in 2014.

However only 48 percent said they reported it to police, while 56 percent sought assistance from Parliamentary security.

The study received anonymised responses from 54 MPs - including 11 ministers or associate ministers.

Women were considerably more likely to face abuse on most counts than male politicians, with abuse increasing across 11 of the 12 different mediums - with social media overtaking emails, faxes and letters as the most prominent - compared to the previous study.

The only kind of abuse that did not increase in that time - alarming behaviour at an electorate office - was experienced at the same rate.

Labour MP Cushla Tangaere-Manuel co-chairs the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) group, which is working on a plan to help improve security for women Parliamentarians.

She told RNZ's Checkpoint she believed one of the report's most disturbing findings was that the families of elected officials had been threatened.

"That's not ok."

Public awareness of the issue was important and a line needed to be drawn that abuse was not acceptable towards anyone, she said.

"If I walk into a shop and don't like the retailer, for example, I'm not going to hurl abuse at them and threaten to follow them home and harm their families."

Tangaere-Manuel said she was not working at Parliament when the survey was undertaken and had not personally experienced any abuse "as yet", but it was important the survey's findings were taken note of.

The survey was undertaken in October and November 2022 and published on in the internationally recognised Frontiers in Psychiatry scientific journal on Tuesday.

Tangaere-Manuel suspected the reports of harassment by elected officials surveyed had been "heightened" by the Covid-19 response - "we saw people's responses to that" - and said it was possible women were seen as "more vulnerable and therefore open to attack".

The CWP had not yet met to discuss how security could be improved for female Parliamentarians, but Tangaere-Manuel said the group would work in a bipartisan way to come up with some solutions.

"We're here to serve the public and I don't mind people disagreeing with policies but I think we need to draw the line between critique and abuse."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs