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Online Harassment of Women in Politics: How Online Harassment isn’t ‘Virtual’ For Women

The social media experience that comes across as a liberating tool for women is often equated with a safe space where one could confidently voice opinions in the public sphere. However, recently, a series of incidents have sounded a note of caution against the euphoria around social media. It has been compared to a street where women are abused, threatened, ogled at, and rebuked - only virtually.

Modern technology, including emails, blogs and social media platforms, have supplied new avenues for circulating abusive content regarding women in general, and more specifically to women active in politics, as bloggers, activists or politicians.  Female Twitter users find themselves not only abused through words but also through morphed photographs with captions circulated online by other users.

The use of hate speech, threats and bullying to intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far greater threat to free speech than any legal sanction. “Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there's a free speech issue there. But not the one you think.” Ally Fogg 

Abuse over political tweets isn’t a new phenomenon, it has, however, significantly gone up. There are currently too many examples of women being harassed and bullied through the Internet, especially women involved in politics and these are just a few:

• A young Fijian woman who intends to stand in the Fiji elections says she has received threats, including threats of rape, on social media;  

• Laurie Penny, a UK political journalist, received direct threats to her and her family for criticizing neo-liberal economic policymaking; 

• Italian Parliamentarian, Laura Boldrini, and other female politicians have been harassed with graphic sexual taunts and Internet threats of torture and murder; 

• Criado-Perez, of Rutland, UK received abuse after her campaign for a woman to appear on a bank note resulted in Jane Austen being selected for the £10 note; 

• Kavita Krishnan, Indian feminist activist and political commentator, recently opposed the induction of a controversial chief of a right-wing outfit, who led an attack on women in a pub, and drew a barrage of online abuse. Responses were replete with sexist comments and death threats. Additionally, there were many others who endorsed rape threats directed at her; 

• Indian female politicians active on Twitter have been subjected to scornful tweets, often threatening their family members.  

 

In this discussion, we would like to hear from you whether you have ever faced online harassment and share good practices or laws which were effective in curbing online harassments. 

Q1. Do you have an example or a story to share of online harassment of women leaders, activists, bloggers or feminists?

Q2. What do you think would be the best measures to stop or control virtual harassment against women in politics?

Q3. Do you know of existing awareness campaigns that can be shared on stopping virtual harassment against women in politics?

Q4. Are there any laws in your country to prevent and punish (sexual) or virtual harassment of women?

There are 9 Comments in this language version, More comments are available in different languages.

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Jackie K. Weatherspoon's picture

There has been pressure in the US to put warnings that anything which involves discriminatory or foul language, inappropriate and disrespectful  it will be immediately deleted. The citizen, website, Mrs. O., which is hosted by a black woman who blogs about  First Lady Michelle Obama adds a warning to that effect. This may mean that women have to monitor their sites more carefully. Thank you.

Salma Nasser's picture

 

A recently passed law in Egypt addresses online harassment for the first time. It defines a harasser as someone who “accosts others in a public or private place through following or stalking them, using gestures or words or through modern means of communication or in any other means through actions that carry sexual or pornographic hints”. 

According to this law, perpetrators will receive a prison sentence, a fine or both. An offender could serve between one and ten years in prison, and a fine ranging from around $1,500 to $3,000.

The law also stipulates three-to-five years in prison for those harassing females at their workplaces or schools.

 iKNOW Politics Team

ameena alrasheed's picture

Internet bullying is an effective tool that works in great harmony with the social political and economic structures of our societies. Such bullying utilizes conservatism and women's status to generate the effect that it was purposely designed to generate. 

With solid rules and regulation and criminalization of the act we can challenge that, otherwise, the social fabric of our societies, that produces a docile cognitive structure of women, will always be fed through technology that helps bring women down and limit the prospects for them to be in the public sphere. Collective action is needed in order to challenge internet bullying and harassment, not just laws and regulations. Women’s solidarity again needs to be actively put to work and come up with more viable solutions to such acts that are, in fact, part of the social structure that sees women as less than men, docile and that creates all possible means to send them back to the household domain.

iKNOW Politics's picture

Dear Ameena,

You have an excellent point that online harassment is only a perpetuation of existing social maladies that need to be addressed. Social media offers bullies yet another facet to exercise their perversions while allowing them anonimity to cower behind.

iKNOW Politics

gbardall's picture

Internet and other social media and ICTs have proven to be uniquely dangerous instruments in perpetrating election violence against women (VAWE) because of the relative importance of psychological violence in women’s political experience. ICTs may be used directly as a tool of intimidation by threatening or inciting physical violence against women candidates, voters or representatives. However most VAWE is psychological and, unfortunately, a number of the specific qualities of social media make them peculiarly suited to inflicting psychological violence on women in public life, including facilitating attacks on morality and dignity, speed of information dissemination, the relative impunity/difficulty of regulating this type of attack and other factors.
The good news is that ICTs also offer exceptional solutions to preventing and reducing electoral violence against women, including through monitoring and documenting violence, via education and awareness-raising platforms and through empowerment and advocacy initiatives. I recently published an article on this issue, entitled "Gender-Specific Election Violence: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies" in the journal Stability that explains these ideas in length and provides examples of both the threats and opportunities of ICTs and VAWE. The full text is available at:  http://www.stabilityjournal.org/article/view/sta.cs

iKNOW Politics's picture

Thank you for your very interesting comment. Gender-Specific Election Violence and ICTs is a topic that we have broached in the past, your article will be a great addition to our library on this theme and we fully agree that education, through ICTs, is one of the myriad ways to reduce cyber-violence towards women politicians, and women in general.

Sincerely,

iKNOW Politics Team

iKNOW Politics's picture

A1. Yes, a female human rights’ defender in the capital of Oaxaca, Mexico, was harassed through emails and social networks after an investigation related to a human trafficking network. 

A2. A network of organizations able to support the allegations and contain the pressure and threats generated, especially when there are political actors involved. 

A3. No

A4. Yes, to identify and punish harassment, although not virtual, so far.

(original comment in Spanish by Florenriquez)

Take Back the Tech's picture

This is such an important discussion, and we're glad to see it. So many great comments here. At this very moment, Take Back the Tech! has started a campaign calling on social media platforms to address violence against women in their terms of service and work with civil society to develop strong solutions. Participation from around the world is critical. You can learn more at https://www.takebackthetech.net. We have several very simple ways you can participate, including sharing your story, rating social media platforms on their response to violence against women and spreading the word. We also do a campaign on online harassment during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which starts 25 November.

iKNOW Politics's picture

@ Take Back the Tech. Thank you for your comment and for sharing with our users ways of participating in the campaign.

We invite our users to check the following video which features an interview with Jac SM Kee, manager at the women's rights programme, association for progressive communications.

http://goo.gl/ocYGgC