Over the past four days, 600 women who are currently active and helping to drive Icelandic politics have spoken up and shared personal experiences in the confidence of a closed Facebook group called “In the Shadow of Power #METOO.“ These female political leaders and activists have shared stories of sexual violence that takes place within their work environment: the Political arena.
During these four pivotal days, the now 700 women representing all Icelandic political parties and movements, have joined this group and shared well over 100 stories of gender-based abuse of power or sexual harassment that has taken place as part of their work in politics.
In a joint declaration, signed by almost 400 female political leaders, the group now demands responsibility and real action by their male colleagues and Icelandic political parties to eradicate this problem.
“Political organizations need to form responses and procedures to tackle sexual misconduct, sexism and gender based violence in politics,” stated Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, founder of the project and chairperson for Reykjavik City’s Special Committee on Battling Violence. “Those who participate in politics need to stop discouraging women and other victims of sexual violence from speaking up, and instead provide support to survivors,” she added.
The importance of female voices and female participants in politics cannot be overstated, considering that:
1. Despite Iceland’s reputation as a leader in women’s rights, sexual violence and sexual harassment take place within its political arena, just as in other places in society and the world.
2. Following are anonymous stories of sexual mistreatment, told by future, current and past female political leaders.
Ever since I began working in politics a few men from my political party, most of them married, started messaging me in the evening. They come up with different reasons for contacting me, some tell me they’d like to offer me help in case I need any. I’m not sure why they are doing this, perhaps they want me to owe them a favor or they want to show me that they’re the ones in a power position. Then they offer remarks like „you’re gonna run, aren’t you? I mean, you do have the cheekbones for it.“ (ladies blessed with high cheekbones: running for office is the carrier for you!). Or that I do have the voice for it… mmmmm, that voice! One of these men has been calling several young women within the party. Yes, I’m single, young female, but I didn’t go into politics to entertain married men that seem to be bored in their marriage.
Anonymous2. I was once at a at a Nordic Youth Council meeting held in Finland. These are big meetings with representatives from the whole political spectrum and representatives from nearly all the Nordic political parties. When I show up to dinner in heels and a dress HE says: „Hello there! Finally a sexy left-wing woman“. Later that evening he saw fit to mention that to a few guys we were speaking to and ever time my Swedish friend and I walked passed them he made comments about our looks. It was extremely hard to tolerate and made me very self-conscious during the remainder of the meeting the very next day. I didn’t participate in discussions or interact the next day because of his behavior. Later, at a similar event, I had a conversation with several young women from several political parties, where they shared escalating stories of which guys were most perverted in their behavior towards the women at these meetings. Unfortunately, most of the women that I’ve spoken to at these meetings, have a similar story to share of creeps, some of them beyond nasty and revolting. Many women have received not-so-thinly-disguised threats from fellow party members in power positions, demanding a sexual quid pro quo or their political careers will be over.
Anonymous3. After an open meeting in the party on the Iraq war the group went to a bar for drinks where i shared a conversation with two politicians and a friend of theirs about the topic of the meeting. During the conversation their friend started to point out what a fantastic cleavage I had. I was visibly uncomfortable and asked him to stop it, but he continued without interruption. There I sat squeezed in between two grown men with no place to go and nobody that stuck up for me. I left. There in the middle of an intelligent discussion I had suddenly become an object of gratification in the eyes of three men that saw nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately I have more stories like that.
Anonymous4. Did you hear about the male Reykjavik mayor that during a public speech in Videy, Island, hosted officially by the City. In his speech the mayor spoke of the „gaits of women“, as you’d do with the gaits of horses . According to him women have two gaits; the „walk all over you“ and the „hot to trot„. This happened in the 21. century.
Anonymous5. A young up-and-coming politician has a lot of „unconfirmed“ rumors circling him about mistreatment and harassment of women. This created drama within the party and people tried to make him take responsibility for his behavior. Several women did not feel comfortable working within the party alongside him and his behavior. Nothing happened, he’s still active like nothing happened because it would be so detrimental to his future to hinder him by holding him accountable for his own behavior.
Anonymous6. I’ve been recently elected chairperson of one of the parties regional organization. We’re a very active organization, meetings, discussions and a lot of action… but several men can’t stand me and are constantly trying to drag me down… some go even further and shoot me degrading comments and tear-downs… even fewer, but more than two have tried to grope and get further… None have done so but the effect that this has had on me is that I don’t want to be a leader… their leader.
Anonymous7. I can’t count all the times I’ve been threatened rape because of my political opinions. I’m not interested in repeating what these creeps have said, but I’ve read the countless violent ways they’ve come up with in order to shut me up.
Anonymous8. Participating in the primaries was a guarantee for enduring kisses, groping and hugs from partyMembers, preferably with a smile (otherwise they won’t vote for you!)
The group has also received stories of rape attempts, groping, break-in attempts, unwanted pictures being sent and countless accounts of being the recipients of degrading comments and treatment just because they are women.
3.A change is needed now! We demand that society – including all men – shoulder responsibility for making and being this transformation that we want to see in the world. We demand that all Icelandic political parties and all political leaders shoulder the responsibility to implement the necessary system changes and legislation to eradicate this violation of human rights.
Signed by me, Thorlaug Agustsdottir and 396 Icelandic female political leaders