Guest post by Amelia Martínez Lobo.
Over the past several months, workers in the European Parliament have organised a campaign against the sexist harassment and violence that we experience in the absence of guarantees and protection of actionable protocols.
The #MeToo movement in the European Parliament has as its fundamental objective combating sexist violence with the creation of safe spaces, where sorority is a central element of empowerment. We want to break with the culture of silence that is imposed on the women and people who are outside the privileges of the heteropatriarchy, and address the fear, shame, and guilt that many of those who have suffered some type of violence, harassment, abuse or sexist aggression commonly experience.
The #MeToo movement, which was born in Hollywood a little more than a year ago, was criticised by some feminist organisations who considered it to be an exclusive movement, lacking a class perspective and being made visible in large part by a very determined socio-economic elite.
Of course, the #MeToo movement in Brussels is not exempt from that class component. When I am asked if the European Parliament is a safe place for women, the answer is firm: let’s put things in context. We cannot forget that we are a group of women with a certain socio-economic status – mostly white and working in the European bubble, earning well above the average income (even those with a salary limit imposed by my party, Podemos).
However, being aware of our position, I have always believed that we have to intervene in the spaces in which we operate – in this case, ending the silence and advancing a feminist agenda in the bureaucratic monster of the European Union.
The data is striking: a recent study conducted by the Council of Europe revealed that 50 per cent of women working in parliamentary politics in Europe – parliamentarians, advisors, administrators and technical experts – have received violent threats of death, rape or physical harm. Sixty per cent of the interviewees had experienced sexual harassment; 25 per cent suffered sexual violence and almost 15 per cent were victims of physical violence.
And yet, the percentage of complaints is still very low – with 24 per cent of the elected representatives and only six per cent of the women workers in the parliaments reporting this abuse. This last fact also reveals a class and hierarchical component, innate to the institutional power structures, which makes the workers more vulnerable.
This is because socio-economic structures and power dynamics are reproduced in parliamentary institutions in the same way as they are in any other space. Therefore, our questioning must be radical and structural. Feminists point out that misogynist aggression, such as harassment, abuse, rape and murder, are the product of a patriarchal system that has no boundaries of age, class, culture or race. That is why movements of self-organisation and empowerment like this are essential to be able to change the material conditions in which women work.
It is about transforming a workplace that has hyper-bureaucratised reporting mechanisms, with a total absence of a gender perspective and without dissuasive measures to end the impunity of aggressors. The result is an absence of protection for victims of harassment and aggression within the European Parliament, which employs more than 7,000 people – around 55 per cent of whom are women.
Without forgetting the limits of the institution itself, this struggle, and the advances that can be achieved within the Parliament, would not be possible without a feminist movement that crosses all of society. In the same way, any feminist struggle should try to weave inter-institutional and inter-parliamentary ties, create broad platforms, build networks and mutual support with the women’s movements of organised civil society.
There are many difficulties that we will encounter along the way, but we can overcome them. We will continue fighting from within and, above all, from outside the institutions to dismantle the structures of power and privilege.
The #MeToo campaign in Brussels has set up a blog to record testimonies from workers who have experienced harassment, abuse and violence. The campaign, which involves workers from across the political spectrum, is campaigning for a taskforce of independent experts to examine the prevalence of sexual harassment in the institutions; mandatory training warning against sexual harassment for MEPs; and an anti-harassment committee which should also be tasked with providing appropriate medical support to victims.
Amelia Martínez Lobo is a policy advisor for the Podemos delegation in the European Parliament, and a leading organiser of the #MeToo movement (pictured third from left in photo above). Follow the #MeToo Brussels campaign on Twitter @MeTooEP.