Misogyny – A Human Rights Issue

The Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice's independent report on their findings and recommendations.

Annex Two: Further insights on misogyny

Misogyny in education

There is extensive evidence that girls and young women experience misogyny in schools, colleges and universities, albeit that this evidence often comes from small sample size studies. The common themes are name calling, unwanted touching and sexual assault. Social media can also be a key feature or enabler of misogynistic experiences including the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, being forced to view pornography and other expressions of 'lad culture.'

The Educational Institute for Scotland conducted focus groups in 2016, reported in Get It Right for Girls,[83] which surfaced behaviours including:

  • Casual use of misogynistic language… for example 'slut,' skank' and 'whore,' referring to girls who express feminist opinions as 'feminazis';
  • Dismissive and contemptuous attitudes of some boys towards female pupils and staff, and towards their mothers;
  • Sexual entitlement in various guises – for example overt sexual propositioning of girls and young women through to boys' pushing, grabbing and groping of girls;
  • Joking about the sexual abuse of and physical violence against women and girls, or framing conversations about the issue in such a way as to blame victims;
  • Engagement in computer games that are demeaning in their portrayal of women and often normalise violence against women; and
  • Sending/sharing through social media sexual images of women and girls either with or without consent, as well as use of social media to target sexual innuendo at girls and young women.

The damaging effects of these experiences on girls and young women cannot be emphasised enough. It is not simply a question of having 'a bad day at school.' As Dr Vanita Sundaram explained to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence[84] in March 2017, these experiences act as controls on young girls' behaviour, teaching them to conform to normative expectations of 'feminity' and 'girlhood.' Experience in education informs both the aspirations and achievements of everyone in society. If girls are being held back, rendered self-conscious, objectified, diminished and undermined at school, kept 'in their place;' what hope for their abilities and confidence to raise their voices and presence, to access jobs worthy of their potential, progress at work, close the gender pay gap?

Intersectionality cannot, and must not, be ignored in any discussions relating to misogyny. A YWCA Scotland survey from 2018 reported that 34% of pupils and 33% of staff reported a racial element to sexual harassment. Seven in ten focus group participants thought minority ethnic girls experience sexual harassment 'more or differently' from their white counterparts. 62% thought LGBTI+ girls experience sexual harassment 'more or differently' from heterosexual girls.[85]

The evidence of misogyny in education is not limited to pupil behaviour. Studies including the NUS's 'Power in the academy: staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education'[86] and Girlguiding Scotland's 'End sexual harassment in our schools 2017' provide evidence and examples of harassment of female students and pupils by male teaching staff[87].

Misogyny and women in public life

The Working Group heard evidence from MSPs who shared details of the on and offline abuse and harassment that they routinely experience. The following themes emerged from this discussion:

  • - The murder of Jo Cox weighs heavily on many of these women. Safety and security are clear and present concerns.
  • - Whilst there are some protocols, for example the handing out of alarms, to boost the security of women MSPs, a bigger culture change is needed.
  • - MSPs contrasted the receptions of Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie in the Holyrood Chamber, remarking on a greater level of hostility towards the newly elected woman MSP.

In 2019 the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, presenting his annual report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, warned that "in the current political climate, in which there is a backlash against human rights, women who defend and promote rights are often the first to come under attack."[88] Whilst this warning from the UN focused, at the time, on human rights defenders in authoritarian regimes, the findings from the Working Group indicate that there is no room for complacency in Scotland with regards to protecting the rights of women in public life.

Misogyny at work

Although much of the evidence of misogynistic behaviour focuses on public spaces, the evidence presented to the Working Group also revealed misogyny in the workplace. 'Banter,' patronising comments, 'mansplaining,' active or passive exclusion of women from opportunities to develop, be promoted or to have more influence are all described by women as being part of the pattern of misogynistic behaviour – preserving male entitlement to the influence, power and rewards available in the world of work – and limiting women's power and freedom.

It appears that the continuum and escalation of violence against women is very much alive in the workplace; it is not limited to public spaces.

Misogyny on-line

"We see voices being silenced on Twitter every day. We've been working to counteract this for 2 years… We prioritized this in 2016. We updated our policies and increased the size of our teams. It wasn't enough" Jack Dorsey CEO Twitter 2018.

"Twitter is still not doing enough to tackle the deluge of abuse women face on the platform. Our analysis shows that despite some progress, Twitter is not doing enough to protect women users, leading many women to silence or censor themselves on the platform." Rasha Abdul Rahim, Co-Director, Amnesty Tech September 2020

"We take a comprehensive approach to making our platform a safer place for women, including writer clear policies, engaging with experts and developing cutting edge technology to help prevent abuse happening in the first place…. At Facebook we believe that women should have all the access to economic opportunity, education and social connection the internet provides." Facebook website July 2019

"There's a link between the misogyny and abuse that women experience offline and online… Social media is just a different way of committing these acts. Ultimately it's the misogyny lying behind it that's the problem. So, it's that we have to tackle, not just the means by which people are able to spread their hate and misogyny and abuse." First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, Toxic Twitter, Amnesty International March 2018[89]

A summary from Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2020-21 (www.gov.scot) published on 28 September 2021 provided the following insights:

  • In 2020-21, an estimated 360 crimes under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 were cyber-crimes, an increase of 33% from the 270 recorded in 2019-20.
  • In 2020-21, an estimated 4,390 Other sexual crimes recorded by the police were cyber-crimes, an increase of 37% since the estimated 3,210 recorded in 2019-20.
  • The analysis also suggests an estimated 2,080 Other sexual crimes recorded in 2020-21 were both cyber-crimes and had a victim under the age of 16. This increased by 7% from the equivalent estimate of 1,950 for 2019-20. Over the same period the estimated number of Other sexual crimes which were both cyber-crimes and had a victim aged 16 or over increased by 87% from 1,110 to 2,080.


Email: bill.brash@gov.scot

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