More needs to be done to protect women in public life from “horrific” abuse and harassment both online and in-person, according to the National Women’s Council.
The council warning that the abuse is threatening to silence women as political actors and has become a key barrier to women taking part in politics.
It is calling on social media companies and political parties to do more to ensure women feel safe doing their jobs.
National Women’s Council (NWCI) Women in Leadership Coordinator Emma De Souza is hosting a series of webinars to examine what can be done to tackle the issue.
On Breakfast Briefing with Shane Beatty this morning, she said women in public life are subjected to higher levels of abuse than their male colleagues.
“When a woman enters public life, they are then subjected to these really high levels of abuse and it is hard to escape social media these days, so it really is quite a pressing space,” she said.
“We know that all stakeholders have to be engaged with and more needs to be done in terms of social media companies – but we also think that there is space for more to be done by the political parties.
“What are the parties doing? How are they supporting their members and parliamentarians and ensuring there are protocols and guidelines and safety procedures in place to ensure women can do their job effectively without feeling like they are not in a safe and secure space? That really at the core of what this research.”
She said the abuse suffered by women in politics is well-documented, with some high-profile stories coming out just in the past few weeks.
“We have all heard them recently because women have been quite brave in coming out and sharing their own experiences and they have been horrific,” she said.
“We have seen some of the reporting even over the last few weeks of women experiencing really shocking cases of misogyny and abuse and harassment.
“That is happening in the online space, but it is also in the offline space too. So there is also a need to look at do we have strong enough legislation here to protect women.”
She said the NWCI research will look at what political parties are doing to protect their female members and will create a toolkit which it hopes the parties will adopt, “so we can find a better way to operate in these spaces.”
Ms De Souza said social media companies in particular need to take on a bigger role in protecting women in politics.
“Absolutely there is more they can do,” she said. “The platforms really are based around, I suppose, allowing a higher level of abuse and harassment towards those who hold public office.”
“I know for example that Facebook has a policy of permissible targets. So, if you are someone who is a public figure, then you can be subjected to a higher level of abuse than others.”
She said it is not good enough to tell people to turn off social media when they are being targeted with abuse.
“Social media is a key way to engage with constituents and other members of society,” she said.
“It is a tool; it is something we all use in our day to day lives now so the argument that public figures should just switch off social media doesn’t really work because they should be able to use it to connect with the public as well.
“So that is not really the answer. There has to be a better solution than that.”