In recent years, we have observed how the climate of discourse in general, and in particular on social media, has intensified. Platforms have scaled back their content moderation, intervening less frequently, and tolerating comments that spread hate or hate speech. This has led to a serious increase in attacks against public facing women in particular.
The hostilities against these women are characterized by violence: they include sexualized digital boundary violation, such as targeted disinformation campaigns, defamation, rape and (death) threats. A limited number of studies on the phenomenon indicate that it’s a widely accepted "normality" that women are exposed to this type of violence and defamation in public.
As a result, more and more women do not want to become politically active in the first place - out of self-protection and to protect their families from this ordeal. Those who already have public roles are increasingly withdrawing from digital spaces. However, because social media platforms are now among the central forums where public discussions take place and opinions are formed, the absence of women means a significant narrowing of the democratic debate and an obstacle to participation for women themselves.
Digital violence against women, especially in politics, is not an individual problem. It is our democracy that is at stake when the participation and thus the exercise of civil rights of women and other social groups is systematically impaired or made impossible.
The time to act is now. We have crucial elections coming up: European elections, German state elections, and German federal elections in 2025. In addition, important legislative processes are currently underway to develop stronger protection against violence overall and thus also for (politically active) women. These measures include the Digital Services Act, the Online Safety Bill and the Directive on Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.
With the joint project "Close the Gap: Securing Women's Voices in Politics," our partner HateAid, together with the University of Oxford and the Technical University of Munich, will use this momentum to counter the extensive challenges of digital violence against politically active women with an innovative, multidimensional approach:
1. Knowledge gaps in the field of digital violence against women are to be addressed through science and research in Germany and another European country. This module is being realized in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich and the Blavatnik School of Government/University of Oxford.
2. Efforts will be made to influence politics and platform regulation to combat group-specific hate and enforce women's fundamental rights on the platforms.
3. Risks emanating from online platforms will be assessed, and the platforms, in turn, will be held accountable to authorities and courts.
4. Concrete, target-group-specific empowerment and support for women in politics, including through targeted workshops and advisory services will be provided.
5. Sensitization in political parties, associations, youth organizations, and the broader public, especially addressing men as potential supporters, to strengthen social cohesion.
The aim of the project is to ensure that not only women benefit from the regulatory and legislative measures, but also all groups that face discrimination and marginalization who are affected by group-based hatred, e.g. racism, antisemitism, or gender-based violence.
The project "Close the Gap: Securing women's voices in politics" counteracts the destabilization of democracy and strengthens the endangered fundamental rights of all.