Social media reflecting entrenched culture of violence against women violence against women in politics (VAWIP) has been on the increase, globally. It is an urgent problem worldwide.

Gibson Nyikadzino-Correspondent

Society is now in a mess. A numbness is developing on the people that they rarely distinguish what is wrong from what is right on the grounds of human morality.

Generally, women today continue to be on the receiving end of many forms of violence. Specifically, violence against women in politics (VAWIP) has been on the increase, globally. It is an urgent problem worldwide.

The violation of the rights of women in politics and their dehumanisation have become transnational issues. 

What may have started as something confined to specific geographical locations, as it now happens in a transboundary environment shows the form of tolerance attached to such practices. Any form of violence against women is intolerable.

The United Nations (UN) acknowledges that violence targeted on women and girls remains an immense crisis for rights and health for millions of women and girls the world over. 

Estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that one in three women globally is subjected to physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Further statistics indicate that over 640 million women and girls in 2023 were married before the age of 18, compared to an estimated 650 million in 2022.

The estimated decline of 10 million can be explained using different factors, among others that nation states are instituting laws that are promoting equality and also liberating and empowering women forms of abuse.

In Zimbabwe, to protect women from violence and avail an equal platform for political participation, there has been the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act (2007). 

It means Zimbabwe is putting up efforts to fight all forms of violence against women, including those in politics.

Unfortunately, it appears when there is some progress from one end, another vicious cycle of violence begins to affect women in politics, therefore entrenching more Gender Based Violence (GBV).

The advent of new information technologies and digital platforms has changed the nature, character and execution of violence, especially VAWIP.

VAWIP over the years has been more focused and pronounced in terms of the physical, sexual, economic and psychological aspects.

Psychological components on the violence caused by new media technologies and social media platforms like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and WhatsApp are inflaming VAWIP through sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats.

No matter how much advocacy some may give in reference to the existing social media platforms as interactive spheres that have a liberating aspect, without being modelled to promote inclusion of women in mainstream politics without their rights violated, social media platforms remain anti-democratic spaces that affect women political actors’ rights to free political participation.

This internet driven VAWIP in Zimbabwe therefore present alternative and convenient mechanisms to perpetuate existing forms of violence to entrench new forms of social control and domination of women in politics. 

Online VAWIP is now a new expression of an old problem.

As a new expression of an old problem, social media platforms have now become echo chambers, that is, environments in which the opinion, political leaning, or belief of users about a topic gets reinforced due to repeated.

On these platforms, political opponents, strangers, trolls and families have over the years unleashed harshness to women politicians. 

The harshness and intolerance against women in politics is done deliberately ranging from sexist slurs to derogatory insinuations that breed potentialities to deter women’s effective political participation.

In post-millennium Zimbabwe, online VAWIP has become a new form of control to ensure women’s compliance in an existing patriarchal order. 

This makes VAWIP not simply a gendered extension of existing definitions of political violence, but a distinct form of harm to attack and undermine women as political actors.

Women in politics, as victims of targeted online violence through trolling and cyber-bullying, now have their rights to political participation being trampled and making the political arena a sphere of anarchy and uncivil deliberations.

In a global climate that is also increasingly becoming hostile to both gender equality and democracy, addressing VAWIP demands swift and creative mechanisms to ensure the benefits that men enjoy should also be enjoyed by women political actors.

Despite expressions of relative equality to political participation by men and women on social media platforms, there are problems being encountered through online exchanges where online content is increasingly becoming harmful and damaging, also causing offline harms to targeted women.

While social media networking sites are recommended for information dissemination and empowerment of marginalised groups, including women in politics, negative reviews also show that the same networking sites are promoting hate speech, harassment, abuse and trolling of (both) men and women political actors by other users, leading to increasing incidences of digital violence.

The danger now is that some populist neo-authoritarian forces are capturing social media platforms, and instead of broadening debates, they are converting them into platforms that are limiting users into a narrow outlook that is unwilling to embrace divergent opinions.

It is undeniable that VAWIP has seeped into the online space, targeting women and girls in multiple forms, including cyber harassment or bullying. 

But, by any means necessary, VAWIP ought to be criminalised because when online violence forces women out of digital spaces, the consequences can be far-reaching. When women are not protected from violence, it is societies that will be broken. 

That will affect not just the vulnerable women, but also their children, families and communities.

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