Section: 4.2 Intersectionality and misogyny

Intersections with Race and Ethnicity

Intersections with Race and Ethnicity

Women of colour often experience a unique combination of sexist, racist, and violent abuse.

The challenges faced by women in the online space are further compounded when considering intersectionality. A 2021 study by the Wilson Center and Moonshot CVE1 analysed 336,000 online comments shared by over 190,000 users over a two-month period that targeted 13 female politicians across six social media platforms.

The results highlighted that online abuse often intersects gender with other identity markers, such as race. This means that women of colour face a dual threat, being targeted not just for their gender but also their racial or ethnic background. The study found instances of both transphobic and racist comments, indicating a layered approach to online harassment. The implications of this are severe, as the compounded nature of the abuse amplifies its impact.

The study points out the one of the significant gaps identified in addressing this issue is the lack of intersectional expertise in content moderation on online platforms. This means that abuse targeting women, especially those of colour and other marginalised communities, often goes unaddressed.1

Evidence reveals that violence against women and girls doesn't just happen online or offline – it flows between both, creating a connected cycle of harm.

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and UNESCO 2022 report,2 which included interviews with 714 women from 125 countries, found that Black, indigenous, Jewish, Arab, Asian, and lesbian women journalists participating in the survey and interviews reported the highest rates and most severe impacts of online violence. The study also showed that women journalists from minority backgrounds consistently experienced higher rates of harassment compared to their white counterparts. While 64% of white women journalists faced online violence, the figures rose for marginalised ethnic groups to 81% for Black women, 86% for indigenous women and 77% for Latino women.

The results highlight that violence against women and girls doesn't stop at the internet; it spills over into the real world, creating a cycle of harm that's hard to break. For example, over half of Arab-identifying women journalists in the ICFJ and UNESCO 2022 study2 reported offline attacks that they believed were triggered by online harassment. This rate is significantly higher than the 11% reported by white women journalists and the overall 20% of all women survey respondents who experienced offline attacks in connection with online violence.

This violence often impacts not only the women and girls directly targeted but also their families and those around them. According to the above study, 13% of the women journalists surveyed, including several interviewees from various backgrounds, described threats of violence against those close to them, including children, as a feature of the attacks.

In a 2022 study3 of the 2020 US Congressional elections by the Center for Democracy & Technology, researchers analysed over 100,000 Twitter posts to understand the online landscape faced by candidates. They found that women of colour candidates were twice as likely as others to be on the receiving end of mis- and disinformation. While white men were the most common targets of online abuse in general, women of colour faced a unique blend of sexist, racist, and violent abuse. Posts that combined both mis- and disinformation with abuse predominantly targeted these women. They were also five times more likely to be the subject of tweets focusing on their gender and race. African American women, in particular, stood out as facing the most intense levels of targeted abuse and misinformation.

The study also gleaned further insights from interviews with women of colour who ran for Congress in 2020 and their campaign teams. The consensus was that the online attacks aimed to break their spirit and push them out of the political arena. The abuse wasn't just about harming their electoral chances; it was deeply personal, attacking them based on their identity as women of colour. This form of online gender-based violence emphasised their perceived unsuitability for positions of power, often intensified by other aspects of their identity, such as race or age.

Online gendered abuse often takes on an added dimension of racism and discrimination, especially when the targets are women of colour in the political arena.

The Wilson Center and Moonshot CVE study4 mentioned above also highlighted the layered challenges women of colour face in the public domain. They cited examples like that of Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim elected official who has been consistently targeted with narratives designed to portray her as a foreign threat.

Her identity has been weaponised in various ways since she stepped into politics. In 2019, a doctored image aimed to mock her appearance, religion, and ethnicity circulated online. However, the nature of the narratives has evolved, shifting from mere humiliation to painting her as a terrorist and a political disruptor.

The report found that these narratives leveraged her refugee background and ties to the Somali community to fuel mistrust against Black and Muslim communities. For instance, she was falsely accused of orchestrating ballot fraud in Minnesota with the Somali community's help.

Another narrative according to the report, playing on the taboo of incest, falsely claimed she immigrated by marrying her biological brother, suggesting she's an outsider who doesn't align with American values. On platforms like Parler, hashtags like #DeportIlhanOmar gained traction, while other platforms like Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, and 8kun saw users propagate the false narrative about her alleged marriage.

Gap: There is a lack of research examining the specific New Zealand experiences of women of colour in public roles with regard to hate and gendered disinformation.

Hate and discrimination targeting wāhine Māori in New Zealand

We searched extensively for recent, published research on online harm experienced by Wāhine Māori but found little to document their experiences. There is a research GAP in this area, which is not to diminish the experiences of wāhine Māori.

The Human Rights Commission1 documented a long list of racially and religiously motivated hate crimes in New Zealand from 2004 to 2012, targeting Jewish, Muslim, Asian and tangata whenua, with women also being affected. Since 2019, New Zealand has seen an increase in reports of Islamophobia5 after the March 15 terrorist attacks, a rise in Sinophobia6 and Anti-Māori racism, and specifically the targeting of wāhine Māori78 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research on the experiences of Māori with racism, discrimination, and abuse has typically focused on the community as a whole rather than exploring gender-specific impacts and delving into the nuanced differences across genders.

A 2021 survey9 conducted by the Independent Māori Institute for Environment & Health, Te Atawhai o Te Ao, involving over 2,000 Māori participants, with two-thirds identifying as female, revealed that 93% of Māori respondents encountered racism on a daily basis. Moreover, a higher percentage, 96%, acknowledged that racism affected their families to some extent. The impact of racism often left them feeling deeply saddened or angry.

It is important to note that Māori are also among the most likely to be highly victimised (7.4%), significantly higher than the New Zealand average rate (3.5%), according to the 2021-22 New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey.10

Gap: While available research in New Zealand has explored Māori experiences of racism, it hasn’t extensively examined gendered experiences and how they intersect with racism, exacerbating the harm to wāhine Māori.

Experiences of Wāhine Māori with public roles

A 2024 intersectional analysis11 by Susan Fountaine and Cathy Strong examined the experiences of New Zealand journalists with online and offline abuse, threats, and violence, focusing on gender and indigenous Māori ethnicity. The study surveyed 128 journalists from Stuff, a New Zealand news media organisation.

The study revealed that all respondents have encountered abuse, threats, or violence, which is largely seen as part of the job. However, there is a gendered pattern to this abuse: women primarily face identity and appearance-based abuse, while men are more likely to encounter in-person threats or actual violence.

77% of respondents identified as Pākehā or New Zealand European and 9% as Māori, of which three-quarters were female.

Research reveals that race and ethnicity exacerbate the extent and severity of gendered abuse and harassment, not only online but also offline.

The survey found that gender significantly affects journalists' responses to abuse, with many women, especially wāhine Māori, considering leaving the profession. Male journalists reported a high incidence of offline threats and violence, with 44% experiencing such events. However, within the specific subset of wāhine Māori journalists, an even higher percentage reported experiencing offline threats and violence, indicating that wāhine Māori faced the most severe rates of offline threats and violence among all groups.

The analysis revealed that 44% of wāhine Māori journalists reported receiving abuse related to their physical appearance. The study also found that racialised abuse was prevalent among journalists, both Māori and Pākehā, when they covered ethnicity-related topics. This was particularly evident in instances where journalists reported on Pacific and Māori issues, leading to significant racist backlash.

Despite the small sample size, the study emphasised the need for an intersectional lens in examining the media workplace, showing that Māori journalists, especially women, face disproportionate threats and violence. The survey also noted a strong acceptance of abuse as part of the job, particularly among wāhine Māori, who showed a high threshold of tolerance possibly as a survival strategy.

Māori women journalists reported the highest rates of offline threats and violence.

Pandemic Impact: offline and online

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, particularly impacting ethnic minorities. This was highlighted in a 2021 pilot study12 by researchers focusing on the experiences of migrant and ethnic women in New Zealand. The study explored how the pandemic affected these communities' employment, wellbeing, and resilience, shedding light on the compounded challenges faced during the crisis.

These findings are in line with a 2022 cabinet paper13 released by the Ministry for Women, which indicated that the 2020 nationwide lockdown in New Zealand had a disproportionate effect on women, especially those deemed most vulnerable.

The cabinet paper highlighted that refuges, sexual violence services, and helplines saw an increase in calls related to family and sexual violence. Victim advocates in September 2020 reported a rise in domestic violence, with more severe attacks and injuries.

Racism, and specifically the targeting of wāhine Māori, was prevalent within the anti-vaccination, anti-mandate discourse and narratives.

Racism, particularly targeting wāhine Māori, was prevalent in anti-vaccination and anti-mandate discourse, as noted in a published report by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).78 It was expressed via language, imagery, and meme; and was violent and hateful in expression. The report, which presented a deep dive analysis that explored the experiences of Māori during the Covid-19 pandemic, found that racism played a significant role in the anti-vaccination and anti-mandate narratives. A divide was promoted between ‘real Māori’ and ‘Māori elites’. This division, amplified by non-Māori in the mis- and disinformation environment, led to violent targeting of Māori with high profiles, especially wāhine, including members of Parliament. The report8 underscored that there was little to no pushback to this dangerous speech targeting Māori, even from subscribers and producers who were Māori. This lack of pushback was enabled by the categorisation of Māori into the two groups mentioned above.

Gap: There is a significant lack of research focused on the experiences of wāhine Māori and Pasifika women concerning gendered online harms, abuse, and harassment. This underscores the need for more targeted studies that address the unique challenges faced by these communities in online spaces.

Further reading

Studies and reports: Intersections with race and ethnicity


We understand that this research could be confronting or upsetting for some readers. If you or someone you know needs to talk:

  • Free call Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843 for support for women and children experiencing family violence.
  • Visit Netsafe to complete an online form to report any online safety issues or free call 0508 638 723 for support.
  • Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
  • Free call Youthline 0800 376 633 or text 234 to talk with someone from a safe and youth-centred organisation.
  • Free call Safe to Talk 0800 044 334 or text 4334 anytime for support about sexual harm.
  • Free call OutLine Aotearoa 0800 688 5463 any evening to talk to trained volunteers from Aotearoa's rainbow communities.