While it’s a global phenomenon that women politicians face higher online abuse than men, the scale of the problem is worse in India than say in the US and the UK. A study by Amnesty International India has found that 1 in every 7 tweets mentioning women politicians during the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign was ‘problematic’ or ‘abusive’.
Further, Muslim women politicians received 94.1% more ethnic or religious slurs than women from other religions, and women from marginalised castes received 59% more caste based abuse than women from general castes. This too mirrors the experience of other countries – women of colour in the UK Parliament have been subjected to the highest levels of online abuse. The virtual vitriol mirrors the bigotries of real life and in turn it can have very real effects. In the UK several women MPs decided not to re-run in the December election, specifically on account of the abuse, threats and a culture of intimidation. At root, as historian Mary Beard has argued, is “a certain male cultural desire for women’s silence”.
At age 70 the Republic of India still has less than 15% women in the Lok Sabha. The under-representation of women at all levels of decision-making hobbles the country’s progress in countless ways. Of course social media companies need to develop better radars against the harassment of women but at the same time the social equations that are being mirrored online must change. Equality must march ahead.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.