Combatting Sexist Hate Speech: Why Youth Should Act

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Last week, from February 9-12, the No Hate Speech Movement organized a seminar linked to implementing of the Gender Equality Strategy of the Council of Europe. The event took place in the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg and was called “Combatting Sexist Hate Speech”. The idea was to bring together human rights activists, researchers, and policymakers to deepen the understanding of sexist hate speech and identify appropriate responses.

According to the Council of Europe’s official reports: “One of the thematic focuses of the campaign in 2016-2017 will be sexist hate speech. In the survey of young people and online hate speech carried out in 2015, women proved to be one of the top three target groups of hate speech encountered by the respondents. The need to prevent and respond to sexist hate speech has been reaffirmed by the campaigners in the No Hate Speech Movement, based on the observation that sexist hate speech is often seen as ‘acceptable’, harmless and often less serious than other forms of hate speech, while in fact it is one of the most widespread and systemic forms of hate”. 

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Young people will gather at the seminar on 8 March this year to discuss a variety of views concerning the topic as well as to prepare the main strategies and actions for mobilising the No Hate Speech Movement campaigners to act together against sexist hate speech. The Council of Europe states on its official page: “More than 3 billion people are online. Whilst this is to be welcomed, it has also raised the spectre of sexist hate speech, so intimidating and so widespread, that many fear it has now shrunk the online space for girls and women.”

Indeed, participants at the Combatting Hate Speech Seminar had a lot of online content they could refer to throughout the days of intense discussions and plans for action. Valentina Pellizzer, an activist from the Bosnian NGO One World, for example, shared an ironic video campaign called “Zero Trollerance” aimed to stop hate speech through a humorous series of videos and instructions on how to control the “trolls”. Despite the seriousness of the subject, a lot of participants agreed that very often the tool that helps to fight hate speech is humour. Of course, you cannot humour everything, but combatting hate speech could be possible if famous Internet memes turned into memes connected to the “No Hate Speech” theme. Instead of bullying others, words can be used for good.

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Marit Maij, a representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and a member of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and a rapporteur on “Ending cyber-discrimination and online hate” said she receives hate speech and even threats every day, often anonymously.

As a political figure I very often receive threats by e-mail, but they are certainly different from the e-mails my male colleagues receive. E-mails addressed to women have very explicit curse language and a disdainful tone, moreover, it is common to address females with our first names, whereas if you write to a man you would often go with calling him “Mister”. How do I deal with it? Once, I personally contacted a man who sent me a very offensive e-mail. He left his phone number and I thought, why not to call? I asked him what made him think he could offend me so painfully and suggested that we constructively discuss the points he addressed in his accusations. Later he e-mailed me again, apologizing for his previous disrespect. Certainly you cannot approach all the hate speech that is out there, but it is important to make people think about their actions. Tackling hate speech and addressing it is essential if we want to make our community a better place“.

Media plays an essential, if not the most important role, in creating perceptions of both men and women” stressed another expert from the European Federation of Journalists, Pamela Moriniere. “Free speech is not, in fact free, if its purpose is to speculate with the facts and hijack women’s rights and freedoms.” In the article that the European Federation of Journalists produced after the event it is stated that “Sexist hate speech should be taken seriously by the media.”

A journalist and an expert from the Guardian, Erica Buist, expressed similar concerns about the role of the media and how instead of focusing on the issue and helping it, a lot of journalists choose to do quite the opposite. “The scariest part is that sexist hate speech turns into routine. It is very often disguised as a compliment or a joke. Sexist hate speech often starts from the trivial little jokes that at first everyone seems not to notice. But then it leads to feeling assaulted on a daily basis and they can barely stop it“, says Erica. “I started writing my blog and everyone assumed it was written by a man because it was funny. Certainly women cannot be funny, they should be beautiful and many other things demanded by society. Later, when the readers found out I was a woman they were really surprised. This once again illustrates that a patriarchal community is not ready to give women a voice, and women journalists therefore become even more dangerous for a world.”  

Daria Manshina, founder of the non-profit organization “Shut your sexist mouth up” in Russia has already come up with an initiative which would be the analogue of “The Project Unbreakable.” Daria wants to give a voice to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.

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If you are interested in this topic, stay tuned through the No Hate Speech website to learn more about first Action Day on the 8th of March, 2016 and other upcoming projects!

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