Your right to freedom of expression

Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."

A great deal of hate speech is directed at women journalists, bloggers and activists simply because they are women. When a woman speaks up online, some people use hate speech to try to silence her or drive her out of a particular digital space. When the writer is a woman of colour and/or LGBTQI, she will often face hate speech attacking her gender, race/ethnicity and sexuality.

Women of all backgrounds have a right to use their voices and to express themselves however they want. Hate speech is a violation of this right. Many of the same people committing such violence are very vocal about their own right to free speech, ignoring how their attacks restrict the free speech of women. Hate speech is not free speech, and anyone working to promote freedom of expression online should be concerned about how hate speech affects this right for women.

Your right to freedom from violence

United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: "States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women... [This includes] any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: "Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere."

Hate speech is a form of violence, and states have a duty to eliminate such violence. The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights addresses hate speech in Article 20 but only when it advocates "national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence." There is a movement underway, however, to address gender-based hate speech, and some online platforms include gender in their policies against hate speech.

Your right to privacy and freedom from defamation

Article 12, Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

People who commit hate speech sometimes engage in doxing, which is hacker slang for publishing someone's personal contact information online to intimidate or punish them. Doxing is an obvious violation of your right to privacy and anyone who does this without your permission is breaking the law. Generally, in law, the right to privacy trumps freedom of expression.

People who who spend their time committing hate speech against women online take advantage of the anonymity the internet can give them. As with freedom of expression, some of the same people who violate women's privacy online do so while fiercely maintaining their own right to privacy.


Your right to work

Article 23, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

Hate speech interferes with women's professional lives. Online attacks discourage women from writing and earning a living on the internet. Media outlets should take action to ensure that their commenting policies do not allow hate speech and that they have protocols in place for dealing with such violence when it appears. US lawyer Danielle Keats Citron posits that online abuse constitutes "discrimination in women’s employment opportunities". She argues that gender-based attacks on women publishing on the internet should be against the law in the US under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination based on race, religion, or gender.


Your right to public participation

Article 27(1), United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: : "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."

Since hate speech is designed to silence women and push them out of public spaces, it affects the right to participate in culture and reap the benefits of scientific advancement, including technology. As the internet has become a key public sphere where broad-ranging decisions are made, policies and strategies are debated, opinions are expressed, ideas are shared and work is performed, women's right to participate in online culture is a critical part of full participation in public life.