Women ‘leaving political life’ over rise in online abuse

Political parties in Ireland are not doing enough to support their members, a report found.
Women ‘leaving political life’ over rise in online abuse

By Cate McCurry, PA

Women are leaving politics or refusing to enter political life over the rise in online abuse targeted at women, it has been claimed.

Claire McGing, from the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWC), said women are making the decision to drop out of politics while others are being put off running in elections because of the gendered social media abuse.

A report published by the NWC also found that political parties in Ireland are not doing enough to support their political members who are subjected to abuse.

The NWC published a social media toolkit for parties to tackle violence against women in politics, and has called for parties to take substantial action to support female members.

The NWC toolkit, developed by Valesca Lima and Ms McGing, was developed following a survey with Irish political parties in how they deal with online abuse.

Ms McGing said there is “ample global research” to show that sexist attitudes and gender based violence against women political candidates and politicians remain a “key barrier” to the achievements of gender equality in political systems.

“We do know from academic research that when women experienced this, it tends to be highly gendered and sexist in its context and in its in its content and in the effect that it has,” Ms McGing told a conference on Thursday.

“In addition to the emotional and professional consequences that that online abuse has, women may decide to drop out of politics and and other women, if they see that is what elected women are experiencing, they may just decide it’s not worth running for election at all.”

Recent research by data scientist Dr Ian Richardson found that between September 2020 and September 2021, women councillors in Ireland received eight times more abuse online than their male counterparts.

Research also shows that women in the Seanad face three times more abuse compared to their male counterparts.

 

“Given that local governments and also the Seanad are key pipelines into Dáil Eireann, there is a real concern, and I would say there’s some evidence already around what women are saying, that they will not run for the Dil on the basis of what they are experiencing,” Ms McGing added.

“I have had a number of women councillors confidentially telling me they will not run again in 2024 as a result of what they’re experiencing.”

She added: “In terms of political parties, we argue in this toolkit that they are the name gatekeepers to political office for women, for all candidates but particularly for women in light of their under-representation.

“We argue that they have a duty to recognise, take concrete steps to address gender based online abuse, take a zero tolerance abuse to perpetrators if they are in the party fold or party members and to provide support for survivors.”

The NWC survey found that of the seven political parties which responded, all had codes of conduct that could address online threats and abuse.

The seven parties included Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats and People Before Profit.

Ms Lima said, however: “We noticed that (the codes of conduct) is addressed only on general terms, and this applies to all by members.

“So we’ll ask that those policies specifically address abuse towards female party members.

“Most parties have reporting mechanisms, but when they do they are regular complaining mechanisms.

“So when online violence happens, complaints are made but only for regular complaint channels.

“Our conclusion was that most parties appear to be aware of their role to play in fighting online abuse against women but much more needs to be done.”

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