Words Can Hurt: Fighting Gender Bias in Georgian Social Media

Discriminatory, sexist and abusive language in social media is one of the main reasons cited by women leaders in opting out of Georgia’s rough-and-tumble political arena, which suffers from gaping disparities in the representation of women at all levels of government. Now Georgian civil society is aiming to spur public action on this issue through the use of innovative tools to monitor gender-based verbal abuse online that were created with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Government of Sweden.

This effort to fight abusive speech on social media was presented today at a virtual conference organized under the umbrella of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This brought together NGOs working on gender equality, media and democracy with representatives of state institutions, the media and international organizations.

“Women in Georgian public life face a barrage of belittling rhetoric, sexist insults and outright threats,” said UNDP Head Louisa Vinton. “Over time this abuse has shifted from traditional media onto social networks, so UNDP and its partners are supporting Georgian civil society organizations in creating tools to fight this disturbing and discriminatory trend.”

With UNDP support, the NGO Union Sapari developed a set of indicators to classify types of gender-based abusive language and a systematic tool for the identification of specific violations. Based on this methodology, the Media Development Foundation (MDF) conducted pre-election monitoring of social media, identifying over 200 cases where women politicians were targeted with sexist and abusive language. The results, which can be found on a dedicated online platform, include sexist insults, ageism, body-shaming and threats of sexual violence. The aim is to raise public awareness of the prevalence of abusive language against women and provide media and the public with tools to combat it.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a trend witnessed over the last decade, with public life increasingly shifting into the social media space,” said Erik Illes, Head of Development Cooperation and Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Sweden. “Social media are far harder to monitor than traditional media outlets and rules promoting respect and social cohesion are next to impossible to uphold. This makes it even more difficult to fight the damage done to women in the public sphere as well as in the general public.”

Lela Akiashvili, the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Human Rights and Gender Equality, highlighted the UNHR Council resolution of 27 June 2016, which states that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online,” including protection from verbal abuse and cyberviolence. “Due to the factors of anonymity and remoteness, it is much easier to attack a person in the online world, in comparison to the off-line world. Moreover, in mere minutes this could become cyberviolence,” Akiashvili noted. “In Georgia, we already have established some good practices in this direction, however, the larger portion of work is still ahead to ensure that people enjoy equal rights and are protected in both – online and offline worlds.”  

The initiative was implemented by UNDP under the Sweden-funded UN Joint Program for Gender Equality – an extensive intervention promoting women’s rights and equal opportunities.

27 November 2020 11:45