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Women Parliamentarians Want Global Network to Tackle Discrimination

FILE - Labour politician Harriet Harman joins a vigil in Trafalgar Square, in London, March 23, 2017.

Female parliamentarians have called for a global network to combat issues including online abuse from the public, threats to their safety and discrimination by male colleagues.

A gathering of female members of parliament (MPs) from dozens of countries across the world highlighted shared challenges over gender equality in politics and urged a joint response, said a report on the conference published on Monday by British politician Harriet Harman.

"Women in parliament are pioneers," said Harman, a member of the opposition Labour party who is the longest-serving female MP in the British lower house of parliament, in a statement. "We have been elected to sit alongside men in our legislatures. But we are, as yet, not on equal terms."

Women make up less than a quarter of parliamentarians worldwide, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an independent organization promoting democracy.

The past year has seen women question why they remain under-represented in public life and senior business positions in a global debate over gender roles after the #MeToo movement spurred a wider debate over their position in society.

​"Virtually all" taking part reported they had faced opposition to their participation in politics, including abuse online and threats in person, said the report on the first "Women MPs of the World Conference" in London last month.

Many said they had been "overtly discriminated against" by colleagues, including not being called on to speak and being blocked from taking roles on committees.

Some younger MPs also said they had been sexually harassed by older male parliamentarians, while women also said they had faced criticism over their appearance in a way that men did not.

Harman said there was support for the conference to be repeated annually in different parliaments around the world so female MPs can continue to support each other and share ideas.

The push for a global network and future conferences to combat discrimination in politics were backed by democracy organizations.

"Sexism and sexual harassment ... should not exist in politics, nor anywhere else," Silvana Koch-Mehrin, the founder of the Women Political Leaders Global Forum, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We welcome every effort to combat such discriminatory practices."