Nils Muižnieks: We must take action against online hate speech against women

Human rights commissioner Nils Muižniekshas has marked international Women’s Day with an appeal to governments to target the proliferation of online misogyny.

Writing ahead of the 8 March global celebration, Muižnieks declares: “Arguably, the most famous case is that of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who, after surviving an assassination attempt prompted by her stance for women’s rights, had to withstand a hostile campaign on the Internet. Malala is now a symbol of women’s struggle worldwide, including in Europe. Recent cases, in fact, remind us that if we believe that hate speech against women is not a European problem, we are profoundly wrong.

“A few days ago, for example, an investigation was opened in the UK against two police officers who used denigrating language against a 19-year old woman who intended to lodge a complaint for domestic violence.

“In Italy, the speaker of Parliament, Laura Boldrini, has been the target of repeated hate speech since she was sworn in, including recently when the leader of the 5-Star Movement, a political group which obtained a quarter of the votes in last year’s legislative elections, published a clearly misogynistic post on his blog, which was picked up by his social media account and those used by his MPs, and which generated violent, insulting comments against her.

“Numerous are also the cases of female journalists all over Europe who have been the target of explicit gender-based threats. Many of them felt obliged to leave the blogosphere.

The Commissioner for Human Rights signalled that governments could look to the Council of Europe ‘No Hate Speech’ leadership campaign and encouraged ratification of the ‘women’s safety’ Istanbul Treaty.

He added: “A first step member states should take is to ratify the Istanbul Convention and use its provisions to better frame the work of national and local authorities, including police and health officials, around four key principles of the fight against violence: prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies.

“In addition, member states should also prohibit by law any advocacy of gender hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

“Hate speech against women is a long-standing, though underreported problem in Europe that member states have the duty to fight more resolutely.”

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