Harassment Faced by Women in Politics is on the Rise


Women in politics face online abuse, especially during the time of election campaigns

Activists and election observers are worried that as the local council election campaign ramps up in the coming weeks, online abuse of female politicians may worsen. More than 70% of women in politics such as female municipal councillors and grassroots political activists have experienced internet harassment, according to the early findings of a survey done by the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE).

Around 80% of individuals who experienced digital harassment, according to CaFFE Executive Director Manas Makeen, did not report it to the police or the leadership of their political party because they believed it would be ineffective. Even when these female politicians turn to the police or the leadership of their party, the problem persists the majority of the time. They are required to come up with their own solutions. Some politicians were offended by the implementation of the female candidate quota at the local council level, and they turned to the internet to discredit their female rivals.

A further finding of the poll was that roughly 55% of female politicians and activists have experienced physical harassment at some point in their political careers. However, the most prevalent type of harassment nowadays was digital. Nearly 90% of individuals who experienced online harassment thought lawmakers from the same party were responsible.

There are numerous videos of some religious leaders that preached on the topic of why people shouldn’t vote for women. There were many different religions and communities that had such false beliefs. Male politicians quickly seized on the early scepticism about women in politics. Despite the fact that misogyny exists in society, organised campaigns are the majority of the attacks on female politicians.

The Women Parliamentarians Caucus is well aware of the persistent online harassment of female politicians, according to SJB MP Rohini Kavirathne. She said that the Caucus had been actively involved in helping women in need and that she, like all female legislators, had been a victim of internet harassment.

According to the CaFFE study, the majority of participants got training from a government or civil society organisation on how to deal with online abuse, but most female politicians over 55 were unable to say what they would do in such a situation.

Rohana Hettiarachchi, the executive director of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), stated that he had also noticed an increase in online abuse of female politicians during the 2018 local council election campaign after the 25 percent female candidate quota was made legally binding. Female candidates should make up at least 25% of the names on the nomination lists filed by parties or independent organisations.

The Institute of Democratic Reforms and Electoral Studies’ (IRES) Manjula Gajanayake said some young, educated female politicians, even those at the grassroots level, had mastered the art of navigating the online world. While online harassment remained a severe issue, there were indications that female municipal council members were creating the necessary support networks to combat it.

Digital media harassment at first shattered several local women councillors. Some families were about to disintegrate. However, there has been a counterattack in recent years. Women in politics who take their jobs seriously have acted with tremendous integrity, and as a result, they are now receiving social respect. Initially reluctant or outraged about their involvement in politics, their family members have since changed their minds.

Political actors frequently engaged in targeted online harassment, and occasionally members of the same party as well. Targeted internet harassment incidents would drastically decrease if political parties were tighter and took their female candidates’ concerns more seriously.

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