A study conducted by the Plan International on the ‘experiences of girls on social media platforms has disclosed that fifty-eight percent of girls out of 14,000 across the globe have experienced varied forms of online harassment’s.
The study, which was conducted in June and July 2020 in 22 countries including Ghana with a structured questionnaire, examined the behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that limited girls’ freedom and opportunities on social media platforms.
The report was presented when Plan International Ghana, joined the world to commemorate ‘International Day of the Girl Child”, which falls on October 8 of every year, in Accra.
The Acting Head of Programmes for Plan International Ghana, Madam Vera Abbey, who presented the report, said 28 percent of the total number studied faced harassments on Facebook, 14 percent on Whats App, five percent on Instagram, two percent on Twitter, one percent on Snap chat, one percent on YouTube, and one percent on other platforms. The report also said online harassments of girls start from age eight and majority got harassed for the first time between the ages of 14 to 16.
On the report, Eighty-five percent suffered sexual harassments; 64 percent abusive and insulting language; 57 percent threats of sexual violence; 50 percent purposeful embarrassments; and 43 percent body shaming attacks.
Madam Abbey said 42 percent had threats of physical violence; 40 percent stalking and annoyance; and 25 percent attacked with racists comments among other types on online harassments.
Disclosing the effects of the harassments, she said, 24 percent of the girls afterwards felt physically unsafe, 43 percent lost self-esteem or self-confidence, 42 percent felt mentally or emotionally stressed and 18 percent encountered problems at school.
She said 71 percent of the respondents said the harassments were triggered due to their style and appearances on social media, 31 percent believed it was due to their gender identity, 18 percent said it was as a result of sexual orientation, nine percent were convinced it was from race or ethnicity, seven percent said it was due to political views, and five percent faced it because they were living with disabilities.
Madam Abbey recommended that government reformed legislative frameworks to deal with online harassment and violence against girls and young women, adding that, laws be made to hold social media platforms accountable. She also suggested that social media companies or organizations created stronger, effective and accessible reporting mechanisms specific to online gender-based violence to hold perpetrators to account.
Civil society organisations were also encouraged to develop and deliver digital citizenship education and awareness on the opportunities and online risks with a focus on online abuse.
The Country Director of Plan International Ghana, Mr Solomon Tesfamariam said abuse and harassments that girls are facing including online, were fast becoming major threats, with very limited measures to protect them, especially in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said Plan International Ghana, therefore, adopted the theme: “Freedom Online” with the hashtag “#FreeToBeOnline” to support girls against abuse and harassment on social media.
For his part, online violence silenced girls and served as a barrier to their leadership, hence, the need to sensitize them on the concept of online safety and harassments from different perspectives. Mr Tesfamariam said it was clear that little was being done to protect girls and young women online, meanwhile, the treatment they received was unacceptable, frightening and must be stopped.
The Deputy Minister of Education in charge of Technical, Vocational Education and Training, Mrs Gifty Twum Ampofo, said the world was in an era where it could not do without the internet. She advised girls and young ladies not to allow themselves to be drawn into unacceptable behaviors on social media as a result of their beliefs, culture and influences from peers and the contemporary world. She said Ghana had adopted the United Nations ‘Safe School Declaration’ and the Ministry had received funding to put together a ‘Safe School Policy’ to safeguard children.