Sad, But Predictable: Gender Shifts in Political Participation Yield Rise in Violence against Women

Sad, But Predictable: Gender Shifts in Political Participation Yield Rise in Violence against Women

In an alternate life, I run strategy and content for the social media platforms of a woman’s journalism association that dates back to 1885. Originally organized on a platform of temperance, suffrage and professional equality, we have always been political. In the era of “fake news” and a misogynist President who routinely refers to the media as the Enemy of the People, we have a lot to say.

Digital marketing professionals are aware of this decade’s 80/20 rule when it comes to social media sharing: four-fifths of your broadcasted content should be relevant but disinterested, while only a fifth should be driven by a brand’s “hard sell.” While there are diverging viewpoints on the current relevancy of this approach, it’s still a decent rule of thumb for basic content mapping.

In searching for some compatible but not self-serving material to fill out next week’s content calendar, I came across this piece from Forbes Contributor Bonnie Chiu, New Data Shows Political Violence Targeting Women on the Rise. Written earlier this week, the piece points to late 20th Century and new Millennium gains in female political participation across the globe, as both the both the cause and result of this threatening phenomenon.

It is the old conundrum of feminist progress through the centuries. We are systemically disadvantaged and violated, we organize and fight back, and efforts to other and suppress women are redoubled by the patriarchal socioeconomic complex. Look no further than the alarming resurgence of abortion laws in several United States that seek to re-open national debate (amongst while males, anyway) about a woman’s settled right to control her own body.

However the rise in political violence against women that Chiu highlights is by no means a uniquely American problem. She writes of the crisis’ ironic, nondiscriminatory global nature:

“Victims include British Member of Parliament Jo Cox in 2016 for her support for the European Union and immigration, Brazilian Councillor of Rio de Janeiro Marielle Franco in 2018 for her critiques of police brutality, and Kenyan female politicians including Ann Kanyi in 2017 simply for their participation in elections.”

From these three examples alone, it’s easy to spot an emerging trend. Liberal women using their voices and positions of power to advocate for justice and accessibility, attacked by panicked male wingnuts who have an explicit or implicit interest in protecting the status quo. And this is not anecdotal hypothesis alone. Chiu’s report is rooted in hard data. She observes:

“As more women engage in politics and public life, political violence targeting women becomes an increasingly important topic. Research from UN Women shows that in 2019, women’s representation in political decision-making…is at an all-time high (20.7%).”

At the lectern or in the street, politically active women fighting for change enjoy the support of many male allies, but unfortunately, the opposition isn’t always content with polite disagreement. Notes Dr. Roudabeh Kishi, Research Director of ACLED, in Chiu’s piece:

“Across all regions, the vast majority of demonstration events featuring women are peaceful protests. However, we found that a higher proportion of these protests get met with excessive force relative to protests that don’t feature as many women, especially in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and across Africa.”

In ways that most men fortunately never have to consider, what happens to a female warrior of social justice in the center of Africa matters very much to a stay-at-home mother in Dubuque, Iowa – or at least it should. The daily news cycle, and research data such as that highlighted by Forbes, provides evidence of what most of us know by instinct. Mankind’s oldest sociopolitical tool for controlling and silencing women – violence – is as prevalent as it’s ever been.

But where the law has frequently failed to guarantee women their rightful participation in the public, private and professional spheres, perhaps the troubling data reflects a present and undeniable silver lining. A grotesque validation of our gender’s global progress. Men do not fight what which they do not fear. Information can be just as powerful and innovative as brute strength, and we can use it to find new ways to protect our bodies and voices.

Becky Sarwate

Becky Sarwate

Becky is an award-winning journalist, Op-Ed columnist and blogger. On March 29, 2018 her first book, Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team, will be published by Eckhartz Press. She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob. Check out her collected work at, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.