Women and men contributing to the public debate are being increasingly subjected to cyberhate and threats. As a government official and Member of Parliament for many years, I have personal experience of the problem.
As Norwegian Minister for Health, I was at the forefront of introducing the world’s most stringent legislation on smoking. This triggered a period in which I was subjected to hateful comments and personal threats.
In the decade that has passed since then, cyberhate has become a growing problem in society. Cyberhate often comprises spreading rumors, slander and threats on the basis of sex, gender identity, religious belief, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Polarized political climate
I am convinced that cyberhate has its roots in, and is stimulated by, an increasingly polarized political climate and a more brutal political rhetoric, and it is no coincidence who the most common victims are. All participants in the public debate carry a responsibility to avoid such a development.
According to international research, cyber-violence has a clear and important gender-based dimension. Women are exposed to sexualized hatred and rape threats – simply because they are seen and heard in the debate. They are also victims of revenge pornography and cyber-rape by men who want to humiliate and objectify them, destroy their reputations, and make them feel vulnerable, ashamed and afraid.
Men are very rarely subjected to the same type of sexualized cyber-violence. This has gender-discriminatory effects: cyberhate limits women’s opportunities to write, work, and express their opinions in the Internet environment, giving them far less capacity than men to operate in the digital world.
Gender equality as an instrument
The sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which will take place in New York, starts on March 14th. CSW is the largest intergovernmental body dedicated to promotion of gender equality in the world, and every year attracts many thousands of participants.
The theme of this year’s commission is the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development on which countries agreed last year. The priority theme is Women’s Empowerment and Its Link to Sustainable Development.
Six Nordic government ministers for gender equality will be participating in at the CSW. They will be emphasizing that gender equality is not just a sustainability goal in itself, but a necessary instrument for reaching all the other sustainability goals.
Many participants will be interested in what the Nordic government ministers have to say, because they represent the region in the world that has come furthest in terms of gender equality. The Nordic countries have been collaborating on gender equality for 40 years, through forums such as the Nordic Council of Ministers. The success of this work is shown in global surveys, such as the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, where Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland have held top positions since 2006.
However, rather than highlighting its own successes, the Nordic region is seeking to establish international collaboration on tackling threats against gender equality.