Women journalists and politicians are more likely to experience online violence, and it is predominantly gendered and driven by toxic masculinity and misogynistic political rhetoric, according to a recent OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender report.
While both men and women experience violence in politics and journalism, women are overwhelmingly targeted with sexual and gendered abuse, usually from men. Furthermore, attacks often target their “intellect, personal relationships, professional credentials, and ‘likeability’ rather than the topic at hand.
“Women and girls are at greater risk of experiencing cyberviolence, especially severe types of harassment and sexualised online abuse and this form of violence is tied to larger social problems of sexism and misogyny.”
The report noted that this phenomenon leads to women being discouraged from entering the sphere and participating in democratic activities. This then results in the public being deprived of the vital participation and information provided by women.
These issues have been linked to toxic masculinity and general democratic backsliding, and a rise in authoritarianism.
It said that the phenomenon is exacerbated by “a resurgence of patriarchal values, with devastating effects on gender equality. These are fuelled by leaders with authoritarian leanings who encourage misogyny to divide and cultivate fear.
This leads men to “believe that they should control the public sphere and that women with influence undermine mens identity and role in society,” the report found.
One example presented was Hungary and Poland, which in 2021 got “gender equality” removed from an EU social summit in Portugal. Additionally, in March, Turkey left the Istanbul Convention, a legally binding instrument to protect women from violence. Furthermore, in Russia, the report said, a number of domestic violence laws have been scaled back, leaving women more vulnerable than ever before.
The report noted that online violence against women is unique in several ways—for example, perpetrators are relentless, anonymous, and less inhibited than they would be offline. Furthermore, once the content is posted online, it becomes a part of the woman’s permanent online identity and is almost impossible to erase.
The OSCE defines online violence against women as harassment and spamming, cyberstalking, revenge porn, disinformation campaigns, and doxing.
In the report, they noted that in 2020, some 73% of surveyed women journalists said they had experienced online violence. Even more concerningly, a fifth of women attacked online said they experienced offline violence that stemmed from it.
The impact of these attacks is vast and can “negatively impact a person’s mental health and wellbeing.” Symptoms include flashbacks, self-blame, PTSD, isolation and problems sleeping.
The report noted that while recognition for this type of violence is growing, the full scale has not yet been realised.
“Many women do not report the violence they experience to their supervisors or the police, often because of stigma and anticipation of negative professional consequences, such as being denied assignments in the future,” it said.
Politics was one of the most challenging topics for women journalists to cover, particularly criticising the government, migration, feminism, and terrorism.
As a result, over a third of female journalists said they avoided contentious topics, with 29% saying they had thought of quitting the profession.