Labour Must Come Together to Eradicate All Forms of Abuse Within Our Party

05/09/2016 15:48 | Updated 05 September 2016
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

If someone called your sister a whore or threatened her with violence at work or in the pub, you would make it crystal clear that such comments were completely unacceptable, wouldn't you?

But online, some people seem to think they can get away with this kind of behaviour.

For women MPs, celebrities, journalists and media commentators, campaigners, and many others who use social media, this kind of misogynistic abuse and threats of rape or violence have become a depressing part of our everyday life.

Some women receive hundreds of violent threats in a single day. Many have been driven off Facebook and Twitter or have been left worrying about their personal safety in the offline world, for fear that abusive trolls will act out their online threats. This is a constant worry for MPs in the aftermath of the murder of our colleague Jo Cox.

This is intolerable for all women - and the Labour Party will not put up with this kind of abuse.

Last week, Diane Abbott MP and I joined Jeremy Corbyn to launching his blueprint to advance women's equality, including policies to tackle misogynistic online abuse and threats, both within our Party and in wider society.

The abuse that myself and Diane regularly receive, and the disgusting online abuse that JK Rowling has received from some self-professed Jeremy supporters just this week, shows why tough policies are desperately needed.

Disagreements within any political party are inevitable and should be welcomed as a healthy sign of debate.

But that debate must be conducted with mutual respect, in which everyone is able to participate and express their opinion, free from harassment or intimidation. Abuse against disabled people, or which is misogynist, racist, antisemitic, homophobic, or based on someone's religion is completely unacceptable and violates the fundamental principles of equality, social justice and human rights which are at the heart of our Labour values.

Just because this abuse is taking place online, doesn't mean it exists within a vacuum, somehow separate from the rest of society. The growing culture of misogynistic online harassment and abuse has real consequences. It creates an environment in which any woman who expresses her opinion is attacked for daring to do so. Unfortunately, this can silence some women and deter them from ever speaking publicly about issues that matter to them. The voice of women is in danger of being stilled by the trolls. And those women who continue to speak out can pay an emotional price, experiencing constant fear and distress.

How can we hope to increase women's representation in politics and society when those who dare to stick their head above the parapet can be hounded and harassed?

Some of this online behaviour is criminal and should feel the full force of the law.

But Labour also needs to take action to end online abuse of women within our Party and in wider society. That's why we are adopting in full the recommendations of the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry to consult and introduce a comprehensive Equal Opportunities Policy for our Party and to develop training and guidance for Party members and staff.

This will embed principles of equality, diversity and respect within our Party and ensure there is zero tolerance towards all forms of discrimination and abuse.

Labour will also conduct a wide-ranging consultation with women's and other relevant organisations on how we can strengthen the law and its implementation to tackle sexual harassment and misogynistic online abuse and threats.

The consultation will look at ways to increase any organisations' responsibility for creating safe online spaces through the promotion of 'community standards'. Strengthening legal protections and improving organisations' and employers' responsibility is essential in making online spaces safer for women, ensuring that we can all participate fully in public life and debate without fear of abuse and intimidation.

Labour must come together to eradicate all forms of abuse within our Party both online and off-line as part of our crusade to eradicate sexual harassment, misogynist abuse and gender inequality throughout society.

Angela Rayner is Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities