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Highland politicians Molly Nolan and Gail Ross join call against online abuse of female representatives in House of Commons debate

By Federica Stefani

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Female Highland politicians and campaign groups supported a call to action to tackle online abuse on women in politics.

Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Digital, Culture Media and Sport, Jamie Stone MP, called for a cross party solution in a House of Commons debate on the online abuse female representatives receive.

He relayed the experiences of Lib Dem candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, Molly Nolan, who was interviewed by the Courier last week, as well as SNP MSP, Gail Ross and the former Independent and former Councillor for Invergordon, Isobel Rhind, who passed away in 1996.

After speaking in the Commons, Mr Stone said: "Today I spoke out about the danger that online abuse directed at women in public office is having on our democracy. It's an issue that transcends party politics and therefore needs a cross party solution.

"I can't pretend to know what it's like to have the particular kind of abuse that many women representatives receive, but I can use my position to call it out, raise awareness and empower women to keep fighting for our democracy so it works for all of us."

Ms Ross added: “Women like me are being put off politics for good. The online abuse we receive is toxic and frankly, unacceptable. Some people say that if you’re going into public office, you know what you’re going into and you have to be resilient - it’s one thing to take criticism, but it’s another to be abused for who you are as a person.

“This is bigger than party point scoring - it’s about the strength of democracy. If we have less women standing because they refuse to put up with the vitriol from online trolls, then we all lose out. Parties of all persuasions must stand together on this and stamp out online abuse at all levels. Enough is enough.”

Ms Nolan, who spoke to us for our anti-trolling campaign in a panel dedicated to this specific issue, said: "I think of myself as quite resilient, but nothing could have prepared me for the amount of abuse I was going to receive as a candidate, whether online, in the post or in person. It's been a source of worry - and a stern wakeup call - for my friends and family about the reality of being a woman in politics.

"This issue requires cross party collaboration if we are going to stamp it out. We need the UK Government, devolved administrations, and local authorities to cooperate because abuse against women in politics is a disaster for democracy at every level."

Speaking to Mr Stone, Centenary Action Group, a cross-party coalition of organisations and activists campaigning to eradicate the barriers that prevent women from taking part in politics, said: "Diverse representation is crucial in ensuring robust and inclusive policymaking, but the disproportionately high levels of online abuse faced by women in political life, and in particular Black and minoritised women, risks not just preventing women from standing for office to begin with, but also driving them out far earlier than their male counterparts.

"69% of women surveyed by Equal Power [1] cited abuse or harassment from the public or other parties as a barrier to pursuing a political career, and since the pandemic, the number of women reporting they would not consider standing for public office has risen considerably.

"The Online Harms Bill must recognise the gendered impact of online abuse by including gender-based abuse as a priority harm, considering the compounding harms suffered by those with intersecting identities, and ensuring robust action is taken against platforms who fail to tackle the harms taking place on their services."

To read more stories from our anti-trolling campaign, click here.

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