22 MAY 2019

  • Petition calling for lifetime ban from standing for those promoting violence or rape reaches 90,000 signatures
  • Fawcett publishes open letter to Prime Minister

Leading women’s rights and gender equality charity The Fawcett Society is today calling on the Government to impose a lifetime ban from standing for elected office for those who promote violence or rape.

Following a petition with 90,000 signatures and rising, the organisation is publishing an open letter to the Prime Minister Theresa May which urges her to act to end the abuse of women in politics and public life.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

“This is not just about the integrity of our elections but about the impact on our public debate and our society.  By permitting candidates who behave in this way we are giving them a platform to encourage and mobilise others.  Women, black and ethnic minority people, those from certain religious groups or those who are LGBT are all more likely to be targeted with abuse.  We cannot allow this to be the norm.

“There is currently nothing to stop someone who promotes rape or violence standing to be an MP, MEP, local councillor or a Police and Crime Commissioner.  The proposed new offence of intimidation of election candidates must be extended to cover elected representatives.  We also need an enforceable code of conduct for candidates which they all sign up to. Political parties need to be held accountable for the candidates they select with tough penalties in place.”

The letter is co-signed by a diverse range of individuals and women’s and equality organisations, including campaigner Helen Pankhurst, Stonewall, Muslim Women’s Network, ActionAid and the Jo Cox Foundation.  Cross-party political support comes from Jess Phillips MP, Nicky Morgan MP Lib Dem Peer Lynne Featherstone, Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party and Harini Iyengar of the Women’s Equality Party.

It comes in the wake of Labour MP, Jess Phillips, being subjected to abuse by a political party candidate. Currently, the law does not disqualify candidates with a track record of issuing threats to stand for elected office.

Labour MP Jess Phillips, said:

“For too long it has been in the hands of political parties to vet who is appropriate to stand for election and I have found personally that that has allowed a man who makes videos about if he would or wouldn’t rape me be selected to stand for a legitimate political party. This is damaging to women’s representation but to our politics as a whole. The government must join in and seek to ensure that this cannot happen.”

Conservative MP Rt Hon Nicky Morgan said:

“It cannot be right that any person who thinks threatening another with rape or violence is in any way acceptable is then allowed to stand for elected office. Actions have consequences and threatening rape or violence should never be normalised.”

The open letter reads:

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Lifetime ban from standing for elected office for those who promote rape or violence

We know that you have long been committed to improving women’s representation.  We recognise that you share our concern that violence and abuse against women on social media is rampant. The abuse faced by women online is overwhelmingly sexist and misogynistic, with evidence showing that women on social media face repeated threats of rape and sexual assault. For women MPs, receiving such abuse has become a daily occurrence.

A recent study by Amnesty International and Element AI, found that 1.1 million abusive or problematic tweets were sent to women journalists and politicians in the UK and the US last year - an average of one every 30 seconds. Black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately targeted with hate speech, violence and abuse, with women of colour being 34% more likely to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets compared to white women. This horrifying level of abuse poses an urgent threat to women’s rights to safety and freedom of expression.

More women than ever are participating in politics. Yet violence against women in politics has also risen at an alarming rate. Acts of violence against women remain a strong barrier to a woman’s right to participate fully in public life. Fawcett Society research reveals women candidates at local and national level are particularly targeted. Female MPs and candidates have expressed concern about the rising levels of abuse and harassment they experience, with many fearing for their safety. We know that this is driving some women out of politics and deterring others from coming forward. Although progress has been made by political parties on the barriers to women’s representation, these new obstacles threaten to roll back that progress. Tolerating this abuse has a silencing effect on women’s participation in public life.

We know that you agree women have the right to be protected from all acts of violence and are able to fully participate in public life. Yet some of those responsible for issuing threats to women have then gone on to stand for election themselves. Surely anyone who issues threats of rape of violence or who incites hatred is not fit to stand for elected office?

Shockingly, our law currently permits it and only disqualifies those with a criminal record on grounds of corrupt electoral practices (eg re political donations), or people in certain cases of bankruptcy. This means candidates with a track record of criminal abusive conduct towards elected representatives can still end up on the ballot paper.

By inviting the electorate to vote for them we are endorsing and legitimising their conduct. This has to change. We are calling on the Government to impose a lifetime ban from standing for elected office to apply in these cases. We need the harassment and abuse of women in politics and public life to end. It is time to defend our democracy and promote equality, not hate.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society


  • Jess Phillips MP
  • Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP
  • The Rt Hon the Baroness Featherstone
  • Dr Helen Pankhurst CBE, Convener, Centenary Action Group
  • Professor Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, Birkbeck, University of London
  • Catherine Anderson, CEO, Jo Cox Foundation
  • Catherine Fookes, Director, Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales
  • Harini Iyengar, Spokesperson on Equal Representation of the Women’s Equality Party
  • Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Executive Director of Glitch
  • Shaista Gohir OBE, Executive Director of Muslim’s Women’s Network UK
  • Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of the Women in Leadership publication
  • Ruth Marvel, Deputy CEO, Girlguiding
  • Anna Ryder, Not The Job
  • Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of The Green Party
  • Bee Rowlatt, Mary on the Green Campaign
  • Girish Menon, Chief Executive, ActionAid UK
  • Lucila Granada, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Service
  • Lee Chalmers, Director, The Parliament Project
  • Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive Officer, Agenda
  • Laura Russell, Director of Campaigns Policy and Research, Stonewall
  • Caroline Criado-Perez, writer, broadcaster and feminist campaigner
  • Iman Abou Atta OBE, Director, Tell MAMA

Fawcett have published a Q&A document which summarises legislation as it currently stands and and details why we are proposing a lifetime ban. Read the document here.

Download the press release here

For more information, infographics or interviews contact Fresh communication:

Abby Richardson – [email protected] / 07876 378 733

Nathalie Golden – [email protected] / 07769 66 66 27