120 women sign open letter condemning sexism in Belgian politics
More than 120 women have signed an open letter condemning sexism in politics, which was then sent to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard.
The condemnation stems from a complaint filed last year by Schaarbeek alderwoman Sihame Haddioui (Ecolo) against fellow alderman Michel De Herde (Défi), claiming sexual assault.
Haddioui alleged that during a town council meeting last October, De Herde whispered in her ear a comment about her breasts and placed his hand between her legs. Separately, a student intern has accused De Herde of rape.
De Herde refused to step down from his position until last week, and the town council was unable to force him to without his consent.
Those who signed the letter against sexism in politics are mainly women involved in politics, including deputy prime minister Petra De Sutter (Groen), senate president Stephanie D'Hose (Open VLD), Brussels minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen), Vooruit parliamentarian Katia Segers and Brussels member of parliament Lotte Stoops (Groen), who co-wrote the text of the letter. Haddioui herself was one of the initiators.
“We call on the political world to take its responsibility around sexist, sexual and psychological violence by public officials,” the letter reads.
“Many people face such violence on a daily basis. Its impact on health or private life is no longer in question. When this violence occurs in places where decisions are made, it endangers our democracy.”
The letter explains that “the political world is designed by men and for men”, and the professional culture itself is rife with sexism.
“It must change. We must prevent violence, protect victims and be able to sideline alleged perpetrators during proceedings,” the letter reads.
The women who signed it are calling for the creation of an “independent body on sexist, sexual and psychological violence in politics”.
Flemish member of parliament and former party chairman Meyrem Almaci (Groen) was also a signatory.
“It is important that bystanders speak up when someone goes over the line – anyone who goes too far should be called out immediately,” Almaci said.
“Colleagues mishandling female interns, making inappropriate comments about women's appearance, making lewd allusions: we've seen it all. Even when the cameras are rolling – remember what Katrine Partyka was told years ago.”
Almaci was referring to an incident in 2009 when Partyka was on her knees speaking with a colleague when parliamentary president Patrick Dewael (Open VLD) said: “It is good that you are on your knees from time to time, but that is not the right attitude in parliament.”
And in 2019, Vlaams Belang member of parliament Jan Penris repeatedly called Liberal politician Carina Van Cauter a "bitch" during a debate. His party eventually forced him to resign because of a drinking problem.