The United Kingdom’s Health Secretary is one of many political figures that recently expressed their dismay at the number of women Members of Parliament (MPs) who renounced standing for re-election to Parliament and decided to leave politics after citing rising online harassment and abuse. Recent reports show similar trends in many other countries, such as the United States, India, Kenya, and Colombia.
Politics is a hostile environment to women everywhere. An Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) global study published in 2016 and a 2018 study focused on European countries found that violence against women MPs is very widespread, with varying prevalence in different regions and countries of the world. According to IPU’s research, psychological violence -- which includes sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, intimidation and threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction -- is the most common form of violence women MPs face, affecting more than 80% of the global survey respondents. It also suggests that digital communication is the main tool used to deliver threats of death, rape and beatings against female MPs and that most perpetrators are anonymous users. Moreover, IPU reports that 58% of the European study respondents and 42% of those in the global study received online sexist attacks on social media, notably Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Online violence is a phenomenon of pandemic proportion as reports suggest that almost three quarters of women Internet users worldwide have experienced some form of online violence. Online presence, mainly through social media, can be described as a double-edged sword for women politicians:  while it is a unique and extremely useful tool to directly communicate with constituencies and to mobilize support and engagement, it provides a forum where violence can proliferate with impunity.
A forthcoming research study based on social media trends analysis in seven countries (Zimbabwe, Haiti, Afghanistan, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine) reveals growing online incivility, hate speech, and overt violence against women in politics. It reports little regulation and widespread impunity and concludes there is a real negative effect on women’s freedom of expression and political participation. Online and offline violence against women in politics is a violation of human rights and, by hindering women’s political participation, is also a violation of women’s political rights. As such it undermines democratic exercise and good governance, and creates a democratic deficit.
This e-Discussion seeks to raise awareness on the online harassment, abuse, and violence against women in politics by encouraging a dialogue and an exchange of knowledge, experiences, and solutions to fight this phenomenon and ensure online and political spaces are safe and inclusive. Women and men in politics, civil society activists, practitioners and researchers are invited to join this e-Discussion from 9 to 30 March 2020. The submissions will contribute to the elaboration of a Consolidated Reply that will augment the knowledge base available on the topic.
- Why do you think online harassment and abuse of women in politics occurs and is so widespread?
- What can States do to stop online harassment and violence against women while respecting freedom of expression and the prohibition of incitation to violence and hatred? What are the good practices?
- What can social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram do to make their spaces safe for women?
- Online violence against women in politics makes political careers unattractive. What message would you give to women who are considering leaving politics or discouraged from engaging in public life because of this?
- Use the below comment section below.
- Send your contribution to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can post it on your behalf.
 Cyber Violence against Women and Girls - A report by the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on broadband and Gender, Page 2. 2015: en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/genderreport2015final.pdf
 #SHEPERSISTED: Women, Politics & Power in the New media World, Page 23. 2019: she-persisted.org/
 United Nations, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on violence against women in politics”, para 11. August 2018. See also UN Women, “Violence against women in politics: Expert Group Meeting report and recommendations”, 2018, and NDI, Not The Cost: Stopping Violence Against Women in Politics, 2016.