Uhuru Watch

We Need to End Online Violence Against Women in Politics; here's how we can do it

By Editor | Nov 7, 2022

Online violence against women in politics (OVAW-P) poses a deepening challenge to democracy. It covers all forms of aggression, coercion, and intimidation, seeking to exclude women from politics simply because they are women. 

This online behaviour seeks to achieve political outcomes: targeting individual women to harm them or drive them out of public life while also sending a message that women, in general, should not be involved in politics.

A global survey of 14,000 girls in 22 countries found that 98 per cent use social media, and half reported being attacked for their opinions before they were old enough to vote. As a result, almost 20 per cent of respondents stopped posting their opinion.

In a largely conservative patriarchal society like Nigeria, for a woman to run for office could mean a brush with death offline. 

In 2019, A People's Democratic Party’s Woman Leader of Wada Aro Campaign Council, Ochadamu Ward, in Ofu Local government, Kogi, was burned to death. 

Salome Acheju Abuh was burnt alive in her house at Ochadamu Kogi State on November 18, shortly after the announcement of the results of the governorship election held in the state on November 16.

“As a woman, if you come out boldly to contest in Bauchi State, they would say you are a prostitute. If they call you for a meeting at about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., people would say you were going for ‘business’ (prostitution) and not for politics," said Mantuda Adamu, a candidate of the Green Party of Nigeria (GPN) Bauchi said in 2019.

Across the world, women are exposed to harassment online in light of their political aspirations.

In 2017, then-Ukrainian member of parliament Svitlana Zalishchuk gave a speech to the United Nations on the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on women, a fake tweet began to circulate on social media claiming that she had promised to run naked through the streets of Kiev if Russia-backed separatists won a critical battle.

An analysis of the 2020 U.S. congressional races found that female candidates were significantly more likely to receive online abuse than their male counterparts. Similar trends have been documented in India, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe.

A program was led by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to create a list of interventions dedicated to ending violence against women in politics and was gotten from feedback and input from many people dedicated to promoting women’s political participation and protecting online democratic spaces. 

The interventions were developed and revised in partnership with Kat Lo of Meedan and with input from other leading experts on this issue, including Ona Caritos, Tracy Chou, Nighat Dad, Nina Jankowicz, Fernanda Martins Sousa, Document Women CEO Kiki Mordi, Sarah Oh, Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, and Amalia Toledo. 

"They are survivor-centred and seek to shift the burden of ending online violence away from individual women to a more systemic response," said Sandra Pepera, Senior Associate and Director for Gender, Women, and Democracy National Democratic Institute. "NDI’s hope is that women, policymakers, tech platforms, activists, and researchers will form national coalitions to assess, advocate, and implement the relevant solutions to create the necessary momentum for action and address this challenge to democracy. "

NDI held a series of roundtables with 90 women in politics from seven countries across various regions to gather their feedback. The roundtables were led by local experts and organisations focusing on this issue, and participants included politicians, candidates, journalists, academic researchers, activists, and civil society representatives.

 

These interventions include;

  • Measuring the prevalence of gendered abuse and share data through corporate transparency reports.

Platforms should include data on the prevalence of and user engagement with content identified as gender-based hate speech, data on how user reports and escalations are addressed, and data from audits of gender-based hate speech user reports that have not been initially acted on. 

Platforms can work with CSOs and researchers to help shape important reporting metrics and trends to identify. Platforms can also use this data to measure the impact of policies and products they implement to address this issue. 

  • Contribute to and use a shared industry global lexicon repository on gender issues.
  • Develop partnerships to address the amplification of false, non-consensual, or manipulated visual media of women-identifying leaders through fact-checking networks and image hashing service
  • Establish responsive national-level help desks for women in politics. 

Women in politics often report hate speech, death threats, and other forms of harassment to platforms that go unanswered. In fact, anecdotally, nearly every participant in the roundtables to develop these interventions had experienced this. 

Especially during election periods, responses to reports of online gendered abuse must be time-sensitive and acted upon in hours, not months.

  • Provide research partners with sustained access to data on online violence against women.

In addition to sharing corporate transparency reports on gendered hate speech reporting and response data, research partners should have ongoing access to platform data to investigate gendered harassment and abuse. 

Research partners can use this data to monitor trends, investigate state-sponsored gendered disinformation, and observe emerging hate speech campaigns. 

Platforms should provide documentation of their metrics and data-collection methods to research partners.