Experts, Gender Advocates Join Fight Against Online Violence on Female Politicians

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Experts and campaigners for gender equality in Nigeria have outlined strategies for reducing online abuse of women in politics. Data gathered in 2016 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union from 55 female lawmakers in 39 countries showed that 81.8% of the respondents had experienced psychological abuse, which included death threats, rape, beatings, or kidnapping. Social media is the most common platform where psychological violence against women in politics is perpetrated, according to the data.

Online abuse against female politicians takes many forms, including cyber trolling, name-calling, picture modification, sexualisation of their bodies, etc.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Meedan announced it during a webinar to introduce a report titled “Interventions for Ending Online Violence Against Women in Politics.”

At the event, Catherine Gicheru, Founder of the African Women Journalism Project, noted that online violence against female politicians manifests in different forms, such as cyber trolling, name-calling, manipulation of their pictures and sexualisation of their bodies etc.

As such, she urged women politicians to fight to keep their presence in a male-dominated space despite the online intimidation.

“We need men to understand online gender violence as a social phenomenon. Majority of the online trolls are young men who are mobilised to spread this hate and they have moved from online noise to kidnapping the female politicians”, she said.

Ms Gicheru proposed creating and empowering informal networks that can support female politicians and push back against online trolls.

She complained that social media platforms had not done enough to stop the online menace or discard posts that convey hate speeches.

“These platforms should take responsibility for what is on their platforms by including in their terms and conditions measures against cyber bullying”, she advised.

She noted that the media could equally join the advocacy to stop the violence against women by calling out the trolls and not trivialising the attacks.

Shymla Khan, the Director of Research and Policy of the Digital Rights Foundation, who also spoke at the event, suggested that Political parties have a code of conduct that includes punishment for deterrents.

“Political parties need to set some sort of example. Also, Women within the party should advocate for the code of conduct”, Ms Khan said.

She further counselled social media companies to describe various forms of cyberbullying in context on their sites so that their algorithm could detect posts that depict online assaults. Ms Khan also suggested educating young people who are exploited as trolls about the dangers of promoting hate online.

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