International Day for Countering Hate Speech: Sexist and misogynist hate speech, a growing phenomenon

International Day for Countering Hate Speech: Sexist and misogynist hate speech, a growing phenomenon
Getty Images

20-06-2023

Roza Cseby

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

The United Nations General Assembly designated June 18 as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech through a resolution titled "Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech", adopted on 21 July 2021. This significant day commemorates the launch of the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on June 18, 2019 in response to the growing xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred around the world (United Nations, n.d.).

The Action Plan defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factor”. However, to date there is no universally accepted legal definition of hate speech, mostly because of the lack of consensus on the limits of freedom of expression (United Nations, 2019). The Gender Equality Strategy of the Council of Europe clarifies this dispute by stating that freedom of expression is not an absolute right as it is closely linked to other rights such as the equality of men and women. Therefore, gender equality and freedom of expression should be seen as intertwined rather than opposing rights and, for instance, this is why freedom of expression cannot be accepted as a way to silence women and girls (Council of Europe, 2016).

Nowadays, the most urgent aspect of countering hate speech is the globally growing phenomenon of sexist or misogynist hate speech. It encompasses various expressions that disseminate, provoke, endorse, or justify hatred based on sex (Council of Europe, 2016) and contributes to the silencing or marginalization of women. (Sękowska-Kozłowska, 2022). The objective of sexist hate speech is to degrade or objectify women, undermine their abilities and viewpoints, destroy their reputation, and to make them feel vulnerable and fearful (Council of Europe, 2016). Widespread sexist hate speech is due to various factors. Firstly, sexist hate speech is not explicitly prohibited under international law, since under Article 20 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights only “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” is prohibited (Khan, 2021). 

Secondly, growing online misogyny in social media platforms is unregulated and gives increasing prominence to personalities such as Andrew Tate, a controversial and misogynist British-American influencer, who targeted young boys with his misogynist rhetoric via social media platforms, catalyzing a new digital realm: the so-called manosphere. It refers to the large network of online spaces, including blogs, forums and websites, where anti-feminism, misogyny and toxic masculinities are common denominators. The "incel" community, short for involuntarily celibate, is widely recognized as one of these prominent groups, frequently committing online harassment and abuse toward women and spreading sexist hate speech, misogynist beliefs, and male-supremacist ideas (Thompson, 2023). Another significant example of online misogyny was the Gamergate scandal, which occurred within the video game community in 2014. Motivated by their purported anger towards "unethical" games journalists, a large number of individuals within the gaming community initiated a systematic campaign of harassment, heckling, threats, and doxing against several prominent feminist women, a few of whom were journalists (Romano, 2021). 

Lastly, pervasive sexist hate speech shed light on the urgent need for the establishment of an adequate and targeted response plan of the international human rights protection systems, but not just in the framework of gender equality as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Istanbul Convention do, but also in the discourse on hate speech (Sękowska-Kozłowska, 2022). 

Sources and further readings:

United Nations (n.d.) International Day for Countering Hate Speech, 18 June. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://www.un.org/en/observances/countering-hate-speech 

UNGA ‘Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech’ (21 July 2021).  UN Doc A/RES/75/309. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N21/200/61/PDF/N2120061.pdf?OpenElement

United Nations (2019) United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/advising-and-mobilizing/Action_plan_on_hate_speech_EN.pdf 

UNGA ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan’ (30 July 2021). 76th session UN Doc A/76/258. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N21/212/16/PDF/N2121216.pdf?OpenElement  

Council of Europe (2016) Combating Sexist Hate Speech. Gender Equality Strategy. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=0900001680651592 

Sękowska-Kozłowska K. et al. (2022). Sexist Hate Speech and the International Human Rights Law: Towards Legal Recognition of the Phenomenon by the United Nations and the Council of Europe. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 35, 2323–2345. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-022-09884-8 

Romano A. (2021). What we still haven’t learned from Gamergate. Vox. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/1/20/20808875/gamergate-lessons-cultural-impact-changes-harassment-laws 

Rich B. & Bujalka E. (2023) The draw of the ‘manosphere’: understanding Andrew Tate’s appeal to lost men. The Conversation. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://theconversation.com/the-draw-of-the-manosphere-understanding-andrew-tates-appeal-to-lost-men-199179 

Greengard S. (2023). Gamergate: online harassment campaign. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Gamergate-campaign