Picture: 123RF/GILC
Picture: 123RF/GILC

New Delhi/Davos — Nearly 100 Indian female politicians faced abuse, including rape and death threats, on social media during elections last year, with researchers on Thursday raising concerns over rising online violence against women globally.

A study by Amnesty International India said 95 female politicians received nearly 1-million hateful mentions on Twitter between March and May, one in five of which was sexist or misogynistic. In all, there were 724 female candidates.

Digital rights experts said gender-based violence (GBV) online is increasing which is intimidating women and deterring them from putting themselves forward for public office. “People should know what women in politics endure, what they have to put up with and how unequal it becomes for them,” said Shazia Ilmi, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the report.

It is unclear if online abuse against female politicians is worsening or improving as the research is the first of its kind and scale in India, said an Amnesty spokesperson. But Adrian Lovett, head of the World Wide Web Foundation, said online GBV is on the rise globally in developed as well as developing countries.

He said this is worsening the digital divide between men and women, which is getting worse as the number of people going online increases and more men than women log on. 

“Online GBV is increasing,” Lovett told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in the Swiss Alps. “It is not particular to one country or one region. It is a reality in developing countries and an increasing challenge in North America, Europe and across the world.

“This is affecting political participation by women, especially young women being put off by the online harassment of women in public life.”

Amnesty declined to name the politicians in its study of India, where women hold 14% of seats in the lower- and 11% in the upper-house of parliament, compared to the global average of 24.5%, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Similar research conducted by Amnesty in Britain and the US in 2018, studying 323 female politicians, found that about 7% of tweets mentioning them were hurtful or abusive. Several female politicians in Britain chose not to stand again in the general election on December 12 last year, citing the level of online abuse they faced.

Two-thirds of female lawmakers told a survey by a British parliamentary committee last November that progress on tackling violence and online abuse against women in politics negatively affected their willingness to stand for re-election.

Amnesty urged Twitter to step up its response to violations and bring in more policies to protect women.

Twitter has said abuse and harassment has no place on its platform, adding that 50% of hateful content is identified by technology and not reports from people, with the company aware that abuse stifles people’s ability to speak freely.

A Twitter spokesperson said, “We will never be done with our efforts to address abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance — particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalised, such as women.” 

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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