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Speak Freely, Speak Safely: Committing to Feminist Online Civic Space

Outcomes from OH/Pollicy Session at OGP Summit

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Published on
October 4, 2023

Every 30 seconds, a female journalist or politician receives a toxic tweet. This is according to a 2018 study by Amnesty International. When race is factored in, data shows that black women were 84% more likely to be mentioned in abusive tweets than white women.

As information and communication technologies expanded, violence against women found a new outlet - the virtual space. A harmful and dangerous trend has intensified: the surge of online gender-based violence (OGBV). Hate speech, fake news, and harmful content are aggravated and amplified by digital media, affecting particularly politicians, activists, and journalists identifying as women or belonging to marginalised gender groups. 

The psychological toll that comes with it (loss of opportunities and health risks) often leads to self-censorship, disengagement, and demotivation for women younger to participate. Community leaders and activists withdraw from critical roles, affecting the quality of the public debate and the democratic system.

Effective strategies against OGBV demand a multifaceted approach. And this is why Open Heroines, in collaboration with Pollicy, hosted an interactive workshop during the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit 2023 in Tallinn, Estonia, to brainstorm on policies that OGP countries can model or create to combat online gender-based violence and forge safer and more equal open public spaces.

Specifically, we wanted to think of ways open governments can curb this menace through OGP National Action Plans (NAPs). 

Irene Mwendwa, the Executive Director of Pollicy, in conversation with Vera Zakem, Chief Digital Democracy and Rights Officer at USAID. They helped set the scene by sharing perspectives on how the online violence meted out on women and LGBTQ+ activists impacts democratic engagement and public debate.

The session attracted about forty participants from different sectors who were divided into three groups for the brainstorming session. To guide the group conversations, the following points were considered:

1. Power dynamics: How will these reforms affect the power dynamic? Are these reforms challenging power?

2. Winners and losers: Who are these reforms benefiting, and who are being negatively affected?

3. Inclusion: Do these reforms include/consider all potentially harassed groups?

4. Context: Are these reforms context-specific? Are there global values that need to be guaranteed?



It was noted that a number of countries across the globe have existing frameworks on how to address gender-based violence. However, specific clauses addressing online harassment are either missing or have been discussed shallowly. Examples of countries whose legislation addresses OGBV include Kosovo, Mexico, and Ireland.

It was also pointed out that the parameters of what classifies as online violence are grey. The subject evolves as new platforms emerge, so research on emerging behaviours needs to be conducted regularly.

Below are the potential engagements and actions that OGP countries can either include in the National Action Plans or start working on collectively at the local or national levels:

1.  OGP Secretariat(s)

  • Create Communities of Practice (CoP) as a tool for delivery to curb OGBV. CoPs are groups of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfil individual and group goals. Learn more about creating CoPs here.
  • Gender indicators are not part of OGP’s Participation and Co-Creation Standards and are missing from NAPs. This should be reconsidered. Additionally, there should be more gender analyses in NAPs.
  • Invite/vote for more women legislators to sit on the steering committee
  • Organise meetings with social media platform owners to co-create solutions
  • Enhance multi-stakeholder engagement with the private sector
  • Encourage participation from the LGBTQ+ community 

2.  Big tech

  • Hold big tech into account for poor content moderation
  • Require them to use all tools to prevent posting of misogynoir 
  • Push for algorithmic transparency
  • Encourage participation from the LGBTQ+ community in tech leadership

3. Legislation

  • Push for the creation of a single office/department for reporting OGBV cases
  • Push for the amendment of the Access to Information laws on GBV data disclosure
  • Push for regulation of tech companies, justice reforms and fines for offenders
  • Adapt regional and universal frameworks governing OGBV (Read UNESCO’s report about the legal and normative frameworks for combatting online violence against women journalists).

4. Advocacy

  • Media Literacy - Equip journalists and editors with knowledge of OGBV and emerging trends as a way of encouraging in-depth reporting on the issue
  • Raise awareness in different jurisdictions about what to do/how to report OGBV
  • Organise domestic violence forums at local levels

5. Research 

  • Map the extent of OGBV (locally and globally) and gather relevant data
  • Map feminist organisations with expertise on GBV matters and collaborate with them
  • Continually measure/track incidents of OGBV
  • Research emerging behaviours related to online harassment

6. Reporting Mechanisms

  • Push for government to establish an office/department at the national level for reporting instances of abuses

If you have more suggestions or best practices to share, kindly email us at info@openheroines.org 

Additional Resources

1. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Tackling Online Abuse and Disinformation Targeting Women in Politics 

2. Institute for Strategic Dialogue - Public-Figures-Public-Rage-4.pdf

3. World Wide Web Foundation

4. Pollicy


6. United States Department of State - 2022 Roadmap for the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse

7. Thomas Reuters Foundation - Weaponizing the Law: Attacks on Media Freedom

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