8 March 2017
International Day for Women’s Rights (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating progress towards the realisation of women’s rights and gender equality.
For 8 March the No Hate Speech Movement calls on young people to counter sexist hate speech through education and advocacy, raising awareness on the impact it has on women and men, human rights and gender equality..
Many examples of Sexist Hate Speech and its impact on women, such as female journalists, politicians and young women, were shared by the participants in the February 2016 Seminar Combatting Sexist Hate Speech. The seminar was a joint initiative of the Gender Equality Unit and the Youth Department of the Council of Europe. The participants reaffirming that sexist hate speech has a negative effect on the full and equal participation of young girls and women in society, including online for both the victims as the witnesses. They found that sexist hate speech undermines freedom of speech and freedom of choice. It thus forms an obstacle for the achievement of gender equality and human rights.
Sexist hate speech builds on narratives reaffirming gender stereotypes which justify gender discrimination and sexism. The Gender Equality Unit published a Background Note on Sexist Hate Speech outlining the causes and forms of sexist hate speech in detail. (For summary definitions see also the end of this document)
Different hate narratives can also accumulate amplifying the hate speech and isolating its victims even further. Women who are victims of intersectional discrimination are confronted with discrimination or violence because of their sex, but also because of their belonging to a specific group. Women who are for example disabled, lesbian/bisexual/transgender, migrant (including refugees, asylum seekers or undocumented), or from a minority or particular religious or social background, may be confronted with specific forms of sexist hate speech.
The Council of Europe provides a strong policy framework to address gender discrimination, sexist hate speech and advance gender equality. The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention, CETS No. 210) includes types of violence against women that represent forms of sexist hate speech. It also covers online forms of sexual harassment and stalking (Articles 34 and 40). The need to ensure women’s rights and prevent violence against women in the information and communication technology sector and in the media, where sexist hate speech is widespread, is echoed in Article 17 of the Istanbul Convention.
Other relevant Council of Europe policy documents include:
- Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2013)1 on gender equality and media
- Gender Equality Commission Handbook on the implementation of Recommendation (2013)1, highlighting the increased level of online harassment and threats towards women.
- Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2011)7 on a new notion of media recognised the new media ecosystem as a facilitator to spread harassment, bullying, intimidation and stalking.
- CM Recommendation No. R (90) 4, on the Elimination of Sexism from Language affirmed the “fundamental role of language in forming an individual, and the interaction which exists between language and social attitudes”.
- The Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy 2014-2017. One of its thematic priorities is combatting of gender stereotypes and sexism, including sexism as a form of hate speech.
- The Commissioner for Human Rights thematic work on Women Rights and Gender equality and his call for Hate speech against women to be specifically tackled
Such policy frameworks undoubtedly improved the legal status of women in Europe, but effective equality is far from being a reality. This becomes apparent when sexist hate speech can continue to spread unchallenged, not understood as a major barrier towards full gender equality.
To combat sexism and sexist hate speech three main areas of interventions were drawn from the examples of civil society initiatives and researches presented in last year’s seminar.
- Comprehensive legislation and its effective Implementation, for example to:
- Bring national legislation in line with international standards
- Train law enforcement officials (e.g. police, judges, lawyers) to understand the severity of the issue and, using existing policies to track down perpetrators as well as offering redress to targeted people.
- Promote safe reporting mechanisms that lead to redress and remedy
- Monitor sexist hate speech and collect data.
- Ensure public leaders take a stance and denounce sexist hate speech
- Education on gender equality, countering of sexism and hate speech, for example to:
- Include gender-sensitive sex education, women’s rights and tolerance education in schools, and promote non-violent communication and media literacy.
- Support women in technology through training, measures, events, or hackathlons
- Promote the use of Gender Matters, Bookmarks, and other educational materials on gender and women rights.
- Empower women, male and female bystanders/witnesses to counter sexist hate speech
- High visibility of positive ‘alternative’ narratives on gender and gender equality, for example to:
- Develop and disseminate guidelines on gender-sensitivity/ethical reporting for journalists in co-operation with media organisations.
- Portray women in a realistic and non-stereotypical way and challenge gender stereotypes and women and men’s traditional representation in media and society.
- Promote non-sexist language in meetings, trainings and documents.
- Provide positive role models, examples and research results
Building on existing work of the campaign on Sexist Hate Speech in 2016, this year’s Action Day will aim to:
- To raise awareness about the extent of the problem of sexist hate speech in Europe through statistics, figures, articles and hate speech examples,
- To speak up for gender equality and women’s human rights in all fields of life by providing positive examples of counter narratives and other initiatives promoting positive narratives on gender and gender equality
- To invite women and men to speak up for gender equality and equal rights and why it’s important to them and society today and tomorrow,
- To share good practices of educational tools for working with sexism, sexist hate speech and sex-based discrimination
- To raise awareness about policy framework to address gender discrimination, sexist hate speech and advance gender equality
- Organise Human Rights Education activities on Sexist hate speech and gender equality using Bookmarks, Gender matters and other resources
- Organise a joint meeting with civil society actors to identify the challenges facing women in their society and how to address them, such initiative could;
- Strengthening coordinated actions at national level
- Involve women from a minority backgrounds and address concerns of women confronted with intersectional discrimination
- Involve female journalist and politicians
- Lead to a joint statement addressing the authorities or general public that calls for an end to Sexist hate speech, gender based violence and for gender equality
- Lead to a common awareness-raising activities on and offline
- Organise awareness-raising events, for example:
- Speaking corners challenging passers-by to formulate counter arguments against sexist hate speech messages
- Discussion wall on what can you do to achieve gender equality and/or stop sexist hate speech
- Silent witness exhibition
- Living library with women books to discuss their experiences with gender discrimination, sexist hate speech etc and how they deal with it.
- Post a label ‘This is sexist’ on online materials and in comment sections to call out sexist hate speech.
- Post counter-narratives to often encountered gender stereotypes used in sexist hate speech
- Promote the recommendations of the Seminar Combatting Sexist Hate Speech and the Seminar Gender Matters
- Give visibility to inspiring examples that promote Gender equality, positive gender roles, and counter sexist hate speech.
- Re-post articles and resources from
- the Gender Equality Unit, Violence against Women Division, Roma Division, Human Rights Commissioner and others from the Council of Europe
- CEDAW document for Youth
- Campaign partners, especially those that address intersectional discrimination, sexist in Journalist and politics.
Key Terms and Definitions
Abstracted from the Background Note on Sexist Hate Speech of the Gender Equality Unit of the Council of Europe.
Gender equality means an equal visibility, empowerment, responsibility and participation of both sexes in all spheres of public and private life. It also means an equal access to, and distribution of resources between women and men. It means accepting and valuing equally the differences of women and men and the diverse roles they play in society.
Sexist hate speech targeting women has been referred to in several terms such as “sexualised hate speech”, “sexist hate speech”, “cyber gender harassment”, or “cybersexism”. The aims are to humiliate and objectify women, to destroy their reputation and to make them vulnerable and fearful. It is a form of social shaming, spreading the message that the women are not full human beings. Gender-motivated hate speech creates, reinforces and perpetuates a gender-based hierarchy in public places.
Gender stereotypes are preconceived ideas whereby women and men are arbitrarily assigned characteristics and roles determined and limited by their sex. Gender stereotyping can limit the development of the natural talents and abilities of girls and boys, women and men, their educational and professional experiences as well as life opportunities in general. Stereotypes about women both result from and are the cause of deeply ingrained attitudes, values, norms and prejudices against women. They are used to justify and maintain the historical unequal relations of power between women and men as well as sexist attitudes which are holding back the empowerment of women.
Sexism can be described as “the supposition, belief or assertion that one sex is superior to the other, often expressed in the context of traditional stereotyping of social roles on the basis of sex, with resultant discrimination practiced against members of the supposedly inferior sex”. Sexism as a system of beliefs can lead to actions or behaviour which violates the dignity of a person or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.