One in five girls and young women live in fear of online abuse and bullying.
According to a recent survey, girls and young women have been left fearing for their physical safety as a result of online abuse, bullying and body shaming.
Body shaming is the act or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size.
Online violence is defined as action by one or more people that has an effect of harming others based on their gender identity or enforcing harmful gender norms.
This action, conducted using the internet and/or mobile technology includes stalking, bullying, sex-based harassment, defamation, hate speech, exploitation and gender trolling.
Plan International, in a report published to mark this year’s International Day of Girls, October 11, says the focus this year is to train the spotlight on the abuse and harassment girls and young women are subjected to on online platforms.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Girls, is Freedom Online, but Plan International says the effects of these abuses is to silence girls, which act hinders their aspirations to leadership.
Conducted in 22 countries across the world, the survey sought to appreciate the experiences of girls and young women on online platforms.
It is the largest survey conducted on online violence and identified the most common type of attack as being abusive and insulting language, followed by purposeful embarrassment, body shaming and threats of sexual violence.
As a result of online violence, one in five girls have left or significantly reduced use of social media platforms after being harassed.
One in 10 others have had to change the way they expose details of themselves.
More than half of the girls who took part in the survey reported that they had been abused or harassed online.
The girls suggest that social media companies need to do more to ensure their protection and safety.
What the survey established was that the attacks occur mostly on Facebook, where most girls say they have suffered harassment, although the survey found prevalence on Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter and Tik Tok.
The survey established that girls who use social media in high and low-income countries alike, are routinely subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photographs, cyber-stalking and other distressing forms of abuse.
The reporting tools on these platforms, the survey found, were ineffective in stopping the abuse, giving rise to calls to social media companies to do more to protect girls and young women.
Plan International on its part, is asking governments worldwide to implement specific laws to deal with online gender-based violence in order to ensure that girls who suffer it have access to justice.
Social media companies, Plan International argues, have the power to make change happen. The companies need to ensure that their platforms are safe environments for girls, young women and other groups that are vulnerable to harassment.
“Keeping girls and young people safe by keeping them offline is not a sufficient answer,” Plan International argues. “Harassment must not limit girls and young women’s ability to take advantage of all the opportunities social media has to offer.
“Rather than focusing on preventing girls from being offline, we must all do everything we can to make online spaces safer for them.”