On Thursday, a man approached British politician Jo Cox, reportedly shouted "Britain First!" and proceeded to shoot and stab her. A few hours later, she was dead. Her murder is a stark reminder of the threat of violence that women engaged with politics face around the world every day.
Cox is the latest of many outspoken women who have faced fatal or near-fatal consequences for being political leaders. The most immediate example being Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011.
One 2011 study of gender and electoral violence (sourced from six countries around the world) found that women experienced physical violence, intimidation, and verbal harassment in all parts of the electoral process: 48% of respondents who said they were targeted by some form of violence were political party leaders, candidates, or active supporters of a political cause.
In Afghanistan, 90% of threats received by candidates in the 2010 elections were target at women, the Guardian reported. In India, Nepal, and Pakistan, 60% of women said they don't take part in politics for fear of violence, according to a 2013 study from U.N. Women. And in November last year, the Organization of American States—The OAS is a world body with member countries in North, Central, and South America (including the U.S.)—signed a declaration specifically targeting political harassment and violence against women.
The declaration reads, "political harassment and/or violence against women have become more visible due to the increased political participation of women, especially as political representatives." Put another way: as women's visibility in global politics rises, so does violence against them.
The attack on Cox may have been motivated by anti-European sentiment (she was campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union) or racism (she was an advocate for Syrian refugee children and multiculturalism; the gunman had reported links to neo-Nazi white supremacist groups in the U.S.). But it's in line with the violence that female politicians around the world are subjected to regardless of their political affiliations or policy positions.
In March this year, the National Democratic Institute launched a project, #NotTheCost, to raise awareness of the threats women face when they speak up–and to say that fearing for their safety should not be the consequence of being politically active. NDI is headed up by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve in that position.
Albright put it best in an op-ed she wrote for CNN in March this year:
Through the decades, female leaders have been pushed down, shoved aside and beaten up. Too many still suffer from harassment, intimidation and violence simply for being female and politically active. These horrific acts—whether directed at women running for office or those simply lining up to vote —are intentional efforts to demean and restrict the political participation of an entire gender. There are often no consequences for the aggressors in these cases. We are frequently told that such violence is cultural, but I say it is criminal and we have to stop it.
This election year, we have for the first time a woman who's a frontrunner to be America's next president. Getting women involved in politics is essential if we're going to improve policies and curb violence against them.
"Of course, attacking anyone—male or female—for political reasons is abhorrent," Albright wrote in her op-ed. "But eliminating gender-based persecution is important because women in government can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses that others accept."