On Friday 16th June 2023, the Influence & Decision-Making Action Hub of the NCWNZ organised and hosted a webinar on the topic of "How Do We Counter Misogyny?" The recording is viewable on the NCWNZ YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/H7Z9BRV3iMc. Five hundred and thirty people registered for the webinar, and over two hundred showed up - with several registrants hosting viewing parties in their local organisations. This event was a follow-up to last year's successful webinar, "Countering Misogyny" (available at https://youtu.be/JCHnvPVarkI).
This year's webinar focused on online misogyny. When targeted with online misogynistic abuse and harassment, women (and bystanders) can feel powerless to stop it from happening. The session explored how we can counter online abuse both as individuals and as a society and community.
Aimee Tang, a NCWNZ member who works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is co-host of "Conversations with Wāhine," graciously served as the moderator for the event. The panelists included:
- Linda Clark, a Wellington lawyer and partner in Denton Kensington Swan, who is a former journalist and political commentator;
- Charlotte Ferrier, Year 13 student at Christchurch Girls' High School and (together with Kayla Pringle who was unable to attend that evening) lead the Christchurch chapter of Students Against Sexual Harm (SASH);
- Amokura Panoho, Director of Kura Consulting Limited, member of Poutaki Matauranga Māori Netsafe, Inaugural Chair Shakti Asian Women’s Community Council and member of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Harm strategy, Te Aorerekura Strategy; and,
- Louisa Wall, Ambassador for Gender Equity (Pacific), former MP, Silver Fern and Black Fern, and former Co-Chair Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians.
Aimee Tang introduced the topic with a powerful and timely challenge for us all to think about how online abuse results in harmful and violent impacts. Louisa Wall, former MP and current Ambassador for Gender Equity (Pacific), shared her own experiences of misogynistic abuse. Wall emphasised how abuse tends to target women in particular but also members of the LGBTQIA+ community -- and why. She stated, "Most of the abuse I encounter comes because of my advocacy for the Rainbow Community." The abuse she specified comes in the form of:
- psychological violence,
- cyberbullying, and
- hate speech.
The abuse derives from cultural, socio-economic and political history, and it is intertwined with the story of colonialisation. Amokura Panoho reminded us that there is no translation for misogyny in te reo Māori. Much scientific evidence has already been gathered to show evidence of misogyny's impact on women Ministers of Parliament. The online abuse of Jacinda Ardern has been well documented as unprecedented in its intensity and persistence. Panoho decried the silencing of women by misogyny and systemic racism. She gave as an example that the reports of the military destruction of Parihaka in 1881 was the first official recording of rape and other abuses of Māori wāhine and tamariki, though it certainly was not the first instance of mahi tūkino (bad action). Panoho insisted we campaign for us all, especially for Māori wāhine, not to hide away from the public in the face of this abuse. She charged us to reclaim our identity, demand a full history including specifics of harm in the past and today.
Charlotte Ferrier, a student leader, described how she and Kayla Pringle are working through a youth-led group Students against Sexual Harm (SASH) and in Ōtautahi Christchurch NCWNZ branch to address misogyny and sexual violence in schools. SASH had formed in response from the results of a survey in 2021 by Dr. Liz Gordon in which respondents from the Girls High School described incidents of sexual harassment and even rape. Ferrier explained that SASH was now focusing on a wider community engagement since "online abuse is a big issue" and girls are scared to put themselves out on the Internet. Even younger girls, aged 9 and 10 are fearing that a digital public identity is not safe since rolemodels who have millions of followers on social media are being attacked. We need to change behavior norms, not just reform laws or tweak existing policies. She suggested that schools have a role to play in supporting their students, including those who step into public life or take up leadership positions. This led some viewers to think that private sector organisations could explore how to stand strong in support of those in their employ who are suffering from misogyny - even, if necessary - publicly. Ferrier posited that stronger accountability measures and compulsory curriculum in teaching consent education for our youth can have long lasting results.
Online violence impacts not just individuals but our whole community when white supremacists and misogynists are allowed to attack online without response. Panoho recited a famous Māori whakatauki to encourage us:
“Me aro koe ki te hā o Hine-ahu-one” which means
“Pay heed to the dignity and power of women.”
Linda Clark reminded everyone that this is a global issue so we cannot just reply in individual responses but we need a concerted effort nationally and across the globe with a range of partners. Clark warned us of the precedent that when the new law on Digital Harm was rolled out and Netsafe was funded to address online safety, the initiative has always been underfunded and under-resourced. Clark worried that it takes creativity and imagination to even see future iterations of online abuse, for example the expanding use of artificial intelligence, much less developing foresight as to what will come in the next five years. Clark said, "We need to be as imaginative as those developing this technology." She gave examples of initiatives in the European Union, Australia, and Canada who are already ahead of New Zealand. "Our victims are different due to our population here in New Zealand and experiences are unique to us, but some solutions and strategies can be the same." Panoho encouraged NCWNZ to work closely with groups such as the Māori Women's Welfare League, the Rural Women of NZ (once the Women's Division Federated Farmers of NZ) to be forward-thinking and inclusive. New Zealand can be world-leading in addressing this global problem as it has been historically with women's suffrage rights and the first openly gay and transsexual political leaders.
Louisa Wall spelled out specific steps we could take to counter misogyny and online abuse:
- Raise awareness: Increase public awareness about the prevalence and impact of online violence and abuse against women. Share personal stories, statistics, and research findings to highlight the seriousness of the issue. Use social media, traditional media, and community platforms to amplify the message and engage the public. Work with media outlets to raise awareness about the issue and encourage responsible reporting on cases of online violence and abuse. Write op-eds, give interviews, or contribute to articles to provide perspectives on the impact and urgency of the issue.
- Collaborate with women's organizations: Work closely with women's rights organizations, advocacy groups, and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that focus on gender equality and women's safety. Form alliances and partnerships to leverage collective expertise, resources, and advocacy efforts.
- Advocate for policy changes and support survivor-led initiatives: Engage with political parties and policymakers to advocate for the development and implementation of comprehensive policies and legislation addressing online violence and abuse. Write letters, organize petitions, and participate in public consultations to voice concerns and demand action. Be sure to include (and amplify) the voices and experiences of survivors of online violence and abuse. Support survivor-led initiatives that focus on advocacy, support, and raising awareness. Elevate their stories and call for action based on their lived experiences.
- Engage with politicians and elected representatives while fostering multi-party support: Reach out to politicians and elected representatives from various political parties to discuss the issue and share concerns. Attend town hall meetings, community forums, or other public events where you can directly communicate your expectations and urge them to take action. Seek to build bipartisan or multi-party support for initiatives addressing online violence and abuse against women. Highlight the importance of this issue as a matter of public safety, human rights, and gender equality, transcending political divisions.
- Support research and data collection: Encourage and support research initiatives that investigate the nature and impact of online violence and abuse against women. Highlight the need for data-driven policymaking and funding for research projects that shed light on the issue.
The NCWNZ Influence & Decision-making Action Hub is currently planning an upcoming webinar to highlight the ongoing and growing research in online harm. Watch for announcements of this event on the NCWNZ Facebook community page (https://www.facebook.com/ncwnz.org.nz/).