June 4, 2018 / 6:24 PM / 6 months ago

Britain to hire security advisor for women MPs

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s parliament is hiring a dedicated security advisor to help women lawmakers deal with “extreme” threats, abuse and intimidation, two years after the murder of MP Jo Cox.

FILE PHOTO: A Union Flag flies in front of the Big Ben clock face abover the Houses of Parliament in central London, Britain April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

The move is an effort to combat what rights group Amnesty has called the “horrifying levels of online violence and abuse” faced by women in the public eye.

“Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of women MPs are targeted regularly with extreme and graphic threats, abuse and intimidation,” Britain’s lower house of parliament said in a statement on Monday.

Concerns around security grew during last year’s general election.

More than half the cases dealt with by police around Westminster last year involved targeting of female politicians, according to parliament data, even though only about one in three British MPs is female.

The job, solely open to women, entails looking out for the 209 female MPs and their staff, including giving them security advice for when they are away from parliament.

Amnesty welcomed the move, but called for more to be done to protect all women.

“High-profile women are often particular targets, but this is a problem that extends far beyond the walls of Westminster,” it said, referring to Britain’s parliament.

The issue was thrown into the spotlight in 2016 when Cox, an opposition Labour MP, was murdered on the street.

Since then, several women politicians including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott have all spoken out about the abuse they have faced.

“(The online abuse I get) is highly racialised and it’s also gendered because people talk about rape and they talk about my physical appearance in a way they wouldn’t talk about a man,” Abbott, who is black, wrote in a 2017 blog post for Amnesty International.

The piece was part of a study by the rights group which revealed that British women MPs received over 25,000 abusive messages on Twitter in the first six months of 2017, in the lead up to the general election.

An independent government study last December into the intimidation of those in public life found that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people were the most targeted in online and offline abuse.

Sophie Walker, MP for Britain’s Women’s Equality Party, called on Westminster to prioritize an end to violence against women in a tweet in which she said lawmakers needed to take possible attacks into account as part of their jobs.

Reporting by Serena Chaudhry, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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