Irish Political Parties must tackle online abuse of women politicians
Published: Thursday, April 28, 2022
Press release – Thursday 28th April 2022
Online abuse of women in politics and public life is widespread and unrelenting and acts as a major barrier for women to both enter and remain in politics, posing a serious threat to our democracy and advancement of women’s leadership.
To tackle violence against women in politics (VAWIP), the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWC) today launched a Social Media Toolkit detailing a clear pathway of actions for Irish political parties.
The NWC toolkit, developed by Valesca Lima and Claire McGing, demonstrates that Irish political parties are not doing enough when it comes to supporting women who are subject to online abuse and threats and must take substantial action to better support women candidates.
Key recommendations include:
- Create a Joint Code on Political Conduct which outlines the minimum standards of behaviour expected from all party members
- Actively and continuously engage with the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus and members of caucuses at local government to tackle VAWIP
- Fund Equality Officer roles at constituency and branch level to develop equality and inclusivity throughout the party
- Train designated contact persons within the party to deal with VAWIP in a non-judgemental and confidential manner
- Offer mental health services to VAWIP survivors, with capacity of these services expanded in the period before, during and after an election campaign
- Mandatory party pledge for all new and renewing party members against all forms of abuse, both on and offline
- Create an online, anonymous reporting tool available to all party members
Speaking upon the launch of the toolkit, NWC Director Orla O’Connor said:
“We know that women in public life are regularly subjected to often unrelenting abuse, particularly online. This abuse is used to silence women and to prevent their participation in politics and public life. Women from minority and marginalised backgrounds are often subject to not only sexist and misogynistic abuse online, but racism and homophobia too. Online abuse acts as a barrier for many women who wish to enter public service, but do not run for office or put themselves forward out of fear of abuse.
This is completely unacceptable and there is a clear obligation for political parties to take this issue seriously. Political parties have a key role to play in supporting and protecting the women who do come forward for election and have a duty of care to candidates before, during and after an election period.”
NWC Head of Campaigns & Mobilisation, Rachel Coyle said:
“Our Social Media toolkit sets out a clear pathway for political parties to better protect and support female members and candidates from online abuse and harassment.
Our proposals include funding of equality officer roles at constituency and branch level and the provision of designated training to named contact persons within the party for those who need to report an incident. We also call on political parties to develop an online anonymous reporting tool that all party members can use and offer mental-health services to survivors of violence against women in politics.”
Sue Moore, CEO of the Jo Cox Foundation, delivered a video message of support for the toolkit at the launch, saying:
“We know that one of the main issues stopping more women getting involved in politics, and causing women in politics to step back, is this problem of abuse and intimidation.
That’s why we welcome NWC’s report and concrete suggestions… to bring about change.”
Speakers at the launch included Minister of State, Peter Burke, authors of the toolkit, Claire McGing and Valesca Lima and NWC’s Deputy Chairperson, Margaret Martin.
Full version of the Social Media Policies for Political Parties - https://www.nwci.ie/images/uploads/NWC_Toolkit_SocialMediaAbuse_2022FINAL.pdf
For more information contact Vicky Masterson, Digital Campaigns & Communications Officer 087 100 0385
Notes to the Editor:
What: Social Media Toolkit Launch
When: 10am-11am, Thursday 28th April 2022
Where: Board room, Buswells Hotel, 23-27 Molesworth St, Dublin 2, D02 CT80
In addition to a three-part webinar series run in 2021 by NWC featuring talks on tackling online political violence targeting women in politics, this research examined the measures currently implemented by Irish politics parties to manage social media abuse, including hateful, sexist and gendered content.
The research carried out for the development of the toolkit includes primary and secondary sources, a brief systematic review of the academic literature on political violence against women online, a desk review of political party internal policies and codes of conduct related to social media, where available, and an online survey.
An electronic survey of Ireland's major political parties was carried out to understand how parties deal with online abuse and harassment of female party members. This includes ordinary party members, election candidates, and office-holders. The authors developed a comprehensive online survey for political parties, which was administered between November 15th , 2021 and December 13th , 2021. In cooperation with NWC officers, party representatives were identified and contacted to participate in the survey. The survey was submitted to all political parties with representation in Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, and at local government level at the time of data collection, one survey per party. In total, seven parties responded to the survey. These parties were: Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour Party, Social Democrats, and PBP-Solidarity. Although the survey asked respondents to identify the party's name in their responses, the survey results are published anonymously. The survey also included open text boxes for respondents to expand or elaborate on their answers, thus generating relevant material for qualitative analysis.
The 32-question survey for political parties explored the following themes:
• Existing specialised officers to deal with diversity and equality issues.
• Existing internal party policies and codes of conduct related to social media.
• Existence of mechanisms to support female party members affected by online political violence, such as training and counselling.
• Existence of an action plan to prevent online harassment of female party members.
Arising from the findings of this baseline research and a review of best practice measures, a toolkit has been developed which establishes a set of common goals and guidelines on how Irish party organisations can better respond to social media abuse against women. These results can also be extended to racial and ethnic minorities, and other marginalised groups.
The toolkit is based on an analysis of information provided by Irish political parties.
About the Social Media Toolkit
Following research and analysis, a series of recommendations were made to improve Irish political parties’ response to VAWIP across six main areas:
Cross-party leadership to send out a strong message that VAWIP will not be tolerated
Expand equality functions in political parties
Policies, codes of conduct and reporting mechanisms
Supporting women candidates
Active engagement with party members
Collecting data on the problem of VAWIP
Full details of the Social Media Toolkit are available here
The National Women’s Council (NWC) is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups and a large and growing community of individual supporters. The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work.
We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity. More information is available on www.nwci.ie